Fulfilling the Letter or the Spirit of the Law?
It had been a long afternoon. The Smithfleld Area School District curriculum
committee had started the session with a charge from Dr. Trimble, the
Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum. The task before them seemed
overwhelming. Dr. Trimble had informed them of a directive from the
State Department of Education requiring all school districts in the
state to submit a plan for incorporating energy and energy conservation
education at all grade levels. The committee was also informed that,
after they came up with an approach to this topic, they would consider
local demands for AIDS education, drugs education, increased emphasis
in science and mathematics, and improved vocational education to meet
the employment needs of local industries. All of this needed to be incorporated
into an already crowded curriculum with a minimum of additional resources.
It was getting late and a feeling of hopelessness descended on the
room. Suddenly, Joe Wambaugh, the district media specialist, had an
idea. Recalling the catalogs of free instructional materials in his
office, he pointed out that there were some excellent films available
on energy resources that could be borrowed at no cost. Because of sponsorship
by groups such as mining associations, oil companies, and the nuclear
power industry, these well-produced films could graphically portray
a variety of energy resources and their uses in our society. Most of
them contained appeals for the wise use of energy. If scheduled to be
shown periodically in school assembly programs, Joe felt sure that the
requirements of the State Education Department would be met.
There was a pause and a feeling of relief as members of the committee
considered this solution to their problem. After a few moments, Dr.
Trimble broke the silence. "What do you think?" she asked.
The AECT Code of Professional Ethics—Section 1, Principle
1 In fulfilling obligations to the individual, the members shall encourage
independent action in an individual's pursuit of learning and shall
provide access to varying points of view.
On the surface, Joe Wambaugh's suggestion had merit. It would be a
way to meet state requirements at virtually no cost to the school district.
However, would it fulfill the spirit of the directive? Even more important,
would it provide students with a comprehensive view of the issues involved
in the energy problem and an opportunity to evaluate the relative merits
of those issues? The fact that the sole source of information is provided
by prepared instructional programs with no opportunity for discussion
or interaction is highly questionable. Of even greater concern is the
fact that these films are produced by energy-related companies that,
even with the best of intentions, are likely to present a one-sided
viewpoint. Other organizations, such as conservationist groups, may
have a significantly different approach to the subject but not have
the resources to make comparable films available.
The Smithfleld Area School District is dealing with an issue that
is common to many school districts. It is the issue of a balance between
how much needs to be "covered" in the curriculum versus how the curriculum
should be "covered." Put another way, how should the district balance
the need for students to be exposed to a broad range of content, with
the need for students to develop as independent learners who can access
and evaluate information and varying points of view?
Randall G Nichols
Associate Professor of Education
Lake Superior State University
Paul W. Welliver
Professor Emeritus of Education
Pennsylvania State University