Coverage: Master of Nothing
Nobody takes a deeper look at the educational system in today’s society. Everyone just seems to be alright with what they have in place and no questions are raised because the results produced are fine. We’ve all heard the quote “if it isn’t broke, why fix it”, so why should we implement a new reformed education style if the current techniques work? I would like to think of this in a sense of, yes, it may work, but can it be better, or, is this the true potential the educational system can reach? Are we really alright with our education now? Each student takes the same courses, gets taught all the general concepts of said courses, and is off to college or wherever they may go after their schooling ends. But can these students really say that they have mastered these courses? What students receive today in schooling is the outline, not the full picture, and this needs to be changed.
In the article Can Depth Replace Coverage in the High School Curriculum?, the author, Fred W. Newmann, talks about, as mentioned in the title, two different factors to look at in teaching: depth and coverage. “We expose students to broad surveys of the disciplines and to endless sets of skills and competencies”. Coverage endorses quantity over quality. Classes are set up in a way so every single topic is covered to a broad extent instead of important topics being practiced and mastered. To master something, you must practice it and continue to use and build off of it, so if something is taught one day and the next day an entirely new topic is forced onto you with no relevance to the prior topic. If this pattern stays true, how is someone supposed to master something? “They passively allow teachers and textbooks to pour materials into their heads, where they will store it for future use in educational exercise. However, the press to “cover” offers little opportunity to develop that material in ways that will help students meet more authentic intellectual challenges.” Think of it like so, there is only so much water each day to water plants. Adding more plants means there is less water for each plant and overall a more unhealthy growth on each plant. There may be a lot of plants but they aren’t the best they can possibly be. Whereas, say there are a few important plants to water and look after. Water is even distributed and the plants are each being developed evenly. Inevitably, much better results will be produced from this group.
Now, we can look at the quality side, or what we call here: depth. As I have stated before, you cannot expect someone to master all aspects of a topic at once and instead need to focus and build upon certain elements to fully master them. “Depth has been summarized as “less is more.” Now I know how this sounds, less knowledge is more? That makes no sense. What Newmann means by less in this sense is the majority of surface level information. Whereas information taught with much more depth has a greater tendency to be retained and used more beneficially. Greater remembrance of the information typically also makes understanding of similar information easier than it would have been prior.
If this knowledge is so great then why isn’t it applied to all classes then by now? Obviously, the implementation of more in depth teaching will come with complications. “We must recognize that the point of education is, in a sense, to cover material — that is, to expose students to and make them familiar with new information”. That is the whole point behind school, to expose us to these ideas and things and as an end goal to truly “be educated”. In today’s society what really is it to “be educated”. To master multiple subjects and topics letting us be able to apply them to our daily lives. We are under the illusion that because the teaching works, then it doesn’t need to be changed. One cannot possibly learn all there is to learn about subjects in their time in school so they get taught the basics and move on. They feel as if this is fine and fall into the trap of general education. If this implementation were to go through, other problems would be uprooted among students as well. More in depth learning leads to more in depth work which may be a complete change of pace from what each student is used to and content with, which could cause complications in learning such as burnout and even the possibility of dropping out.
With these problems, comes solutions. If the curriculum is to be changed then aspects of it need to be changed to accommodate it. Newmann states these aspects as “assessments, textbook selection, state curriculum requirements, school improvement programs, and teacher education. First of all, assessments need change. Multiple choice memorization questions don’t actually show the use of knowledge if someone can just remember a quote from a textbook or teacher. All the small surface level information questions can be removed and replaced with questions that can demonstrate the example of the students mastery of the topics. Second, textbook selection should be focused on in depth details and not just a data dump aimed just for basic exposure of the topics. Third, state curriculum requirements need to work together to create a system for students to get more in depth learning with less redundant electives and unnecessary, useless work. Fourth, schools must be willing to help the students in need and provide them services able to help them if they are having trouble working in depth. Someone can’t just fully comprehend a subject by reading quotes in a book but must be actively engaging in the material. Finally, teachers need to be teaching what is useful and not just what is on the table of contents. Degrees can be earned by just reciting information read once before where instead it should be the teachers job to fully grasp the students and devote great portions of their teaching to the in-depth studies of their respective academic areas.
Newmann, Fred M. “Can Depth Replace Coverage in the High School Curriculum?” JSTOR, Jan. 1988, www-jstor-org.ezproxy.rowan.edu/stable/20403629?seq=4#metadata_info_tab_contents