Nontraditional Schools and Open Curricula: A Discussion

This article discusses one common type of nontraditional schooling that lets children choose for themselves what to study, enabling them to discover their own talents and passions. Although this system makes sense for young children, older students are at an unfair disadvantage if they are not taught certain important subjects.
There are innumerable types of alternative education systems in the world, and they vary radically. These alternative systems, including Montessori and Waldorf, usually take an approach to early childhood education that incorporates a theme, idea, or theory that is incompatible with traditional schooling. Although alternative education typically begins in or before elementary school, some systems extend through the high school years, and some children might, as they grow older, opt to switch from traditional to nontraditional schooling in their middle or high school years.

What is Traditional Schooling?

Of course, the degree to which there is such a thing as “traditional schooling” might be called into question. To a certain extent, curricula in public schools are determined at the national and local levels. This means that the content of education is traditionalized. Within these predetermined curricula, teaching styles can vary greatly, so the quality and type of education received depends on the particular school a student attends. Nevertheless, the general principles behind public education remain largely the same. Nontraditional schooling breaks with these general principles in one or more important ways.

One Type of Alternative School

Although there are differences between types of nontraditional schooling, one common departure from the norm is in the curriculum itself. In early childhood education, some theorists believe that children should not be subjected to set curricula. Instead, they claim, young children should be as free as possible to engage in whatever type of play or educational activity appeals to their individual personalities. Thus, nontraditional preschools and elementary schools may have a very loose structure, allowing children to do essentially whatever they want, as long as they are engaging their minds and imaginations in some way. In such schools, kinesthetic learning, or learning by physically interacting with objects in the world, is often highly valued, so physical activity and playtime is an integral part of such systems.

Nontraditional Middle and High Schools

Nontraditional schooling at the middle and high school levels often takes a slightly more structured approach, but in many schools the principle of freedom of choice in learning remains the same. Some alternative schools offer courses on topics that are too specialized to be offered in traditional public schools, and allow students to choose from a wide array of classes according to their individual interests, instead of requiring a core of subjects as normal schools typically do. Other, more experimental schools may allow students to choose the curriculum themselves, engaging in discussions with one another until they land upon topics that suit their interests. Some schools even devote the bulk of learning to a single activity or subject, such as theater. Students usually choose these schools themselves after having discovered a love for the subject and having decided to pursue it full-time.

Educational Freedom for Elementary Students

The nontraditional school options that allow students to choose what they learn are many, and such schools may appeal to adolescents who are disenchanted with the school system. The question that arises with regard to these schools, however, is whether free choice curriculum is a good approach to education. At the early childhood and elementary stage, this type of freedom seems to make good sense. Whereas traditional elementary schools strive to impart students with skills and knowledge that they will need later on, most children at this young age are unlikely to remember the information they are taught, particularly if they have no stake in the information themselves.

Reading and Writing

It is important to note that there are certain skills children should learn at an early age, such as reading and writing. However, the structured, one-size-fits-all way that these skills are taught in traditional schools could use improvement. In nontraditional schools, students might be able to learn reading and writing while engaging in any topic that interests them, instead of in topics that have been chosen for them and that, therefore, hold little interest. The result would be much the same: students would learn to read and write, becoming ready for the next stage of schooling. The process, however, is different. While acquiring basic skills, students would have a chance to discover talents individual to them, interests that they didn’t know they had, and to investigate subjects important to them, providing them with a better chance of remembering the information learned.

What Must We Know?

The case becomes more complex with regard to middle and high school-aged children. Although it would be nice to allow each student to pursue his or her own individual talents and interests, there are certain things that, undeniably, children should learn in order to be successful. Students who have not yet decided whether to pursue college educations should be given a chance to develop the necessary academic background so they are not at a disadvantage when application time comes.

by Buzzle Staff.

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