Toward a More Complete Curriculum

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 18, 2005

In the past few columns I have been engaging the discussion of educating the “whole” person – that is to say, providing an education which produces a more complete person who can speak clearly, write lucidly, deal with abstractions, solve problems, articulate positions of American philosophy, understand history, and converse in a manner which indicates exposure to a curriculum geared toward creating responsible citizens. Add to that a heavy dose of civility and character, and we have a real education program which can make all of us proud.

Where, then, do we begin?

It begins with an understanding of what our society needs.

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Clearly, we need citizens who are civil to one another, who understand our American history, and who understand how our country functions.

Unfortunately, there is no governmental institutions in Washington, D.C., today which can serve as a model for civility.

The past two decades have shown us that our Senate and our House of Representatives are totally bereft of any semblance of civility toward fellow members or toward long held American traditions.

And at the risk of sounding like a disgruntled old curmudgeon who has nothing but contempt for youth, it is obvious that the larger percentage of our youngsters lack social skills in formal settings, or even in genial settings.

I have noticed that young people today do not know how to exercise telephone etiquette or the simple formalities of introducing two people to each other.

These may seem to be small elements in the grand scheme of things, but they serve as the outer trappings of a more sophisticated society, a more civil society, a more educated society.

Without casting blame, history shows that the elimination of fundamental education curricula in favor of more popular notions produces a malaise amongst students and an apathy among faculty.

I recall teaching senior English in a high school in 1972.

Our assistant principal in charge of curriculum was aflutter with notions of “relevant” education for our school.

This entailed changing courses to nine-week “mini-courses” in place of traditional principles of English communication though grammar, writing, and speech.

Such changes to the curriculum were left up to a committee of us English teachers to decide which mini-courses we thought should be taught.

Such nonsense as “Comic Books as Literature” and “Film Making” was allowed to substitute for an entire semester of junior English.

There were many more such ridiculous “courses” too ludicrous to recall or mention, but the message was clear – let the “kids” tell us what they “liked” so we could “reach” them.

For my part, I suggested “Introduction to Logic,” “Grammar as Communication,” and “Writing to Think.”

After a highly heated debate, I was able to garner a majority of votes and my three courses were allowed into the new curriculum.

The result was that my three classes filled every semester for the two years I remained at that school.

I took a position in a community college and was pleased to have students there who understood a complete curriculum with some academic rigor.

But for me, the message was clear – youngsters want some rigor and some structure to their learning process which will help them mature intellectually.

It is a message which has not diminished one iota today.

While they may complain at the time, students invariably want to learn! And they enjoy academic rigor provided that they learn principles of inquiry not framed by the grading system – but that is fodder for another column. Suffice it to say that those things which are watered down lay the basis for student contempt and parental antipathy.

The critic is always subject to the question, “So just what is better than what we have?”

In this instance, it would seem that a curriculum which enhances learning possibilities for students is of utmost concern.

And just how would that curriculum look?

Without being archaic, there were some very fundamental elements to curricula which emerged during the 1960’s which held onto basic educational pursuits.

Some of those elements included teaching degrees of etiquette in sixth and seventh grade English, a heavy dose of democracy in Civics, clear thinking in mathematics courses, critical inquiry in science courses, a sense of place and being in history courses, notions of physical fitness in physical education courses, and a sense of appreciation in art and music courses.

Of course, there is more which can be added to such a complete curriculum, but these serve to buttress a solid foundation from which to build other elements of the whole person.

And no curriculum can succeed if it is not encased in a culture of high expectation.

When students know what is expected of them, they universally and invariably respond commensurate with their perceived expectations.

While we have searched and searched for the appropriate formula for a complete curriculum during the past four decades, it appears that the foundation was always there.

We need a curriculum which does, in fact, produce an informed electorate which can distinguish right from wrong, good from bad, can articulate the functions of our governmental processes,


think and write clearly, can articulate discernable positions in politics and history, and can treat each other in civil fashions.

This approach must be at the heart of every curricular advancement we seek and it must produce responsible citizens who have confidence in the totality of the educational system.

Dr. Arthur G. Ogden is the Demopolis Campus Director of Alabama Southern Community College.

All his degrees are in philosophy.

He can be reached at