The Curriculum Wars

Herbert Spencer famously posed the question underlying all curricula: what knowledge is worth the most? Conflicting answers to that question have generated political controversy throughout the history of American education, primarily because of philosophical conflict between the traditionalist and progressive camps. This essay sketches the evolution of that conflict from the 1990s to the current day and evaluates its impact on the content and breadth of the school curriculum. Although the most heated curriculum wars quieted down by the mid-2000s, two forces loom that may reignite them: new technologies and the Common Core State Standards. Much more research is needed on the effectiveness of different curricula, on the impact of the Common Core on curriculum as the implementation of standards and tests unfolds, on the linkages between curriculum and instruction, and on the relationship between technology and learning.

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