On Creating Robots: Standardized Curriculum

Standardized, scripted curriculum is one of the biggest detriments to education that I can think of.  It doesn’t allow room for authentic learning experiences, students have a difficult time engaging with it, and it treats our students as if they are robots that have just been spit out of a factory wielding the exact same makeup.  It is ludicrous to think that every student will learn material in the exact same way at the exact same time. Children aren’t expected to walk for the first time because a book says they should, or lose their first tooth on command.  Why then, would we expect students to learn on command because the curriculum mandates it?  Children develop at different rates.  They walk when they are developmentally ready to walk, and they lose a tooth when they are developmentally ready to lose that tooth.  Shouldn’t learning be the same?  Shouldn’t we be taking cues from the children themselves?  Standardized curriculum doesn’t allow for this.  Standardized curriculum doesn’t truly allow for the different ways that children learn.  Oh sure, they may have a small section at the end of each chapter that offers ideas for differentiation, but is it true differentiation when we are still forcing the same learning?

We need flexible curriculum.  I dream of a day when schools don’t have to buy one standard curriculum.  I dream of a school where teachers can meet the individual learning needs of each child in their classroom by creating customized curriculum that meets those needs.  I dream of an iTunes like model where teachers can select chapters or books that meet the unique learning needs in the classroom.  Don’t get me wrong, this is not free-for-all education where anything goes.  It is a customizable education, it lets teachers do their jobs to the fullest, calling on their expertise of learning and children.  The need for standards and benchmarks are still there, the difference is that children are seen, not as robots to be plopped out of a factory, but as the individuals that they are.

Standardized curriculum lends itself to the current model of education that we have.  The straight rows of desks, the standardized testing, the grade levels and grades.  In order for a customized curriculum model to truly work, we need to rethink the way that education is done.  My dreaming isn’t finished.



  1. In Australia, the Federal Government have recently introduced a website to compare schools’ test scores. These tests take place on two days of the year only. Parents and the community can then compare schools on this basis. So all of a sudden schools have to ‘teach to the test’ when this wasn’t the case on K-10 education previously… Other value added activities such as debating, readers cup, etc. aren’t even taken into account.

    How can we get our political leaders to share our dreams and help make them a reality? Particularly when most of them don’t understand education?

  2. I blessedly concur with you on this topic + there’s nothing like when a nail (healing truth) is hit on the head of a ‘detrimental standardized Curriculum’ with a deliverance hammer…

    For just as our individual faces differs, each student needs + their way of learning/thinking differs too…

    Lets all stop schooling them, take ample time in observing them + help them learn…

    For the last time I blessedly remember, learning is reciprocal…

    Re-echeoing Again, schooling raise up ‘Robotic Workers’… whilst learning raise up different unique + innovative leaders in different industries…

    Thus, lets all flexibly begin to learn + put ‘Standardized Curriculum’ into our back (past) inner pockets…

    Educational Reformation Blessings…

  3. I am sympathetic to your ideas, but I think these type of schools already exist. Isn’t this the “montessori” model? I have some friends who teach in montessori schools, and their methods of educating a child are exactly as you have described. But I may have missed something.

    1. The Montessori model offers some of this flexibility, I like pieces of the Montessori model but do not, myself, subscribe to the full Montessori philosophy of education.

  4. It’s a shame that with standardised testing the focus will always be on the maths & literacy. Whilst these are obviously important we mustn’t overlook those kids who are talented in other areas. Last week at ACEC2010 in Melbourne we listened to Adam Elliot tell us of his journey. He may not have made the grade by our standardised tests but boy, what a talented man, who has given so much enjoyment to so many people.

    1. Pam, I completely agree. We have students who are talented in multiple disciplines. Unfortunately we may never know those talents because our curricular focus is SO narrow in order that students might pass tests.

  5. I have over 25 years experience in secondary teaching and I find that there is plenty of opportunity for students in my classes to express their individual strengths and creativity. Sometimes it is too easy to put forward an extreme position so as to a make a point. In general I have always found secondary students do not do well if there is no structure to their learning, and very often it is the students who hold the teacher back from doing more creative and interesting things with the class. And yes I don’t believe the NAPLAN testing regime being used in Australian Schools is a healthy approach to achieving the best results for students.


  6. I have been teaching for 10 years. Not an old teacher but not new either. I am currently taking classes for my masters and am debating the topic “Should Curriculum Be Standardized for All”. My initial response was no because so much has been said about differentiation and various learning styles in the past 15-20 years that I myself have become a robot. Standardizing curriculum does not mean that students become robots. A curriculum that states “by the end of fourth grade students will be able to determine meanings of unknown words by using context clues” is not ignoring students various learning styles and diverse backgrounds. Curriculums are guidelines. Thats it. The way the curriculum is taught is a different story but the curriculum itself is not the bad guy here. I think that there are too many choices in our education system now a days. There are too many outs for students and teachers to take when something is not working in their favor. Standardization does not have to have such a negative connotation. Individuality can come when students themselves can tell you what it means. We are too quick to make excuses for students and teachers who are not making the grade.

    1. Elizabeth, I respectfully have to disagree. Standardized curriculum is not the same as essential learning goals and benchmarks (which is what you are referring to). Standardized, scripted curriculum is a problem, it isn’t just a guide that shows what kids need to know (again that is essential learning goals and benchmarks) it tells HOW to do that. It gives scripts for what to say to students, activities to do with students, and tests to find out if they have learned it in the way that the curriculum decides they should. That is far from personalized education. “Individuality can come when students themselves can tell you what it means.” That is not individuality, that is regurgitation. They may use their own words to restate it but it is most assuredly not personalized or customized in any way. When I say that we need to do away with standardized curriculum I am not trying to make an excuse for teachers or students, I am working to make education better for every single unique individual.

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