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Nekyia: Persephone supervising Sisyphus pushing his rock in the Underworld. Side A of an Attic black-figure amphora, ca. 530 BCE, from Vulci, February 13, 2007. (Bibi Saint-Pol via Wikipedia). In public domain.

This school year, my son’s school district, Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland, began implementation of what they call Curriculum 2.0. This new curriculum, formerly known as the Elementary Integrated Curriculum, has been in the works for the better part of a decade. As MCPS explained in a flyer to parents, Curriculum 2.o will be one that will “better engage students and teachers, and dedicate more learning time to subjects such as the arts, information literacy, science, social studies and physical education. By blending these subjects with the core content areas of reading, writing, and mathematics, students will receive robust, engaging instruction across all subjects in the early grades.”

Why is better engagement of teachers and students necessary, and how will an integrated curriculum make this possible? The answer to the first part of this question is much more obvious than the answer to the second part. In light of county-level and state-level testing (in the latter case, the MSA for third, fourth and fifth grades), an engaging and integrated curriculum will enable students to be better prepared for the heavy doses of critical reasoning and reading comprehension that this testing involves, at least theoretically.

What hasn’t made much sense has been the implementation process itself, as Curriculum 2.0 became the curriculum for kindergarten and first graders in this 2011-12 school year, with the option of having it for second graders at some schools (like my son’s school in Silver Spring). Meanwhile, third and fourth graders won’t become part of Curriculum 2.0 until 2012-13, and this year’s fifth graders won’t see Curriculum 2.0 at all. It seems as if the implementation process was about as well planned as the SS Minnow’s tour of the South Pacific.

But that’s not the only story here. For someone’s who’s spent a great deal of time attempting to understand

A One Thousand and One Night manuscript written in Arabic under the second half of the Abbasid Era (750-1258 CE), February 9, 2008 (Danieliness via Wikipedia). Released into public domain via cc-by-sa-3.0 license.

the circumstances under which I grew up, including my times in Mount Vernon, New York’s public schools in the ’70s and ’80s, MCPS’s Curriculum 2.0 is sort of like deja vu all over again. Except that in the period between ’76 and ’93, the kind of curriculum MCPS is implementing now was mostly for Mount Vernon’s gifted and talented students then, students who were part of the district’s Humanities Program, particularly those in the Grimes Center for Creative Education. The motivations for developing a similar curriculum three and half decades earlier came out of the need for racial integration and preventing White Flight, and in the process, a measure of academic excellence. Different circumstances in search of the same results, I guess.

A piece of evidence I uncovered a few years ago while working on Boy @ The Window shows how much educators reinvent the wheel in terms of curriculum development, a pitfall in education on which Diane Ravitch has been proven correct for the past thirty years. Charlotte Evans wrote in her April 1981 New York Times article on the Grimes Center that there “is a flowering of creativity at Pennington-Grimes [Grimes had combined with Pennington in the 1980-81 school year] that is evident in the hallways as well as in the classrooms.” Leroy L. Ramsey, New York State Department of Education Administrator of Intercultural Affairs and Educational Integration, when asked by Evans to comment, said that “the intent” of a school like Pennington-Grimes “was to break racial isolation and to stop white flight, and we have done that in Mount Vernon.”

As detailed by Evans in her April 1981 New York Times article, with the

[c]oordinating [of] language, math and science with social studies in the same way, first graders study the family and its roots, how people live and lived in different places. Second graders focus on prehistoric times – the old and new Stone Ages; third graders on the ancient Middle East, fourth graders on Greek and Roman civilization and sixth graders on the Renaissance, Reformation and the Age of Discovery.

This interdisciplinary approach to creating a magnet-style gifted track curriculum did not stop with a focuson other histories and cultures in social studies. “Fifth-graders, for example, specialize in studying the Middle Ages in Islamic nations and in Africa and Europe,” but they also “read Arabian Nights in connection with their Islamic study and went on to African folk tales,” according to fifth-grade teacher Mattie Lucadamo. In addition, there were other “flourishes,” such as “learning the foundation of Hindu-Arabic numbers” and “study[ing] astronomy, tracing it back to the Babylonians.”

It never ceases to amaze me how we as educators, education researchers, and governments spend time, money and human resources recreating what was already in existence, in this case, when I was my son’s age. But, like with the experiment that was the Grimes Center and Humanities, parents with resources will find a way to game the system. In one case, an innovative program was moved to Mount Vernon’s predominantly White North Side in May ’80, and tended to give more preferences to White students in general.

In the case of Curriculum 2.0, the more aware parents will send their kids to Kumon or Kaplan or other testing centers to give their kids every opportunity to do well in this new curriculum, score in the top percentiles on the MSA, and garner the gifted label in time for middle school.