On Myths in Curriculum

Increasingly, we recognize many of the things that are “true” in society are myths. In education, we hear lots of folks promote “learning styles,” but that idea is a debunked myth. In education, we also hold that curriculum and teaching should not be political. It is reasoned teachers’ job is to teach the facts and perhaps how to think, but what to think is off limits.

When we refer to partisan political (the people what should be elected or the referenda to be passed), educators should indeed be neutral. (I remember the shock newly hired educators expressed when they learned they are not allowed to suggest their students who are eligible to vote to vote to pass the school budget in class or during other duties.)

In The Big Myth, Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway demonstrate the idea of the “magic hand” of open markets as a source of economic prosperity, innovation, and good solutions to social problems is a myth. According to their well-researched book, there is ample evidence that the benefits of free markets are vastly overrated and whatever evidence we have is largely the result of false narratives and misrepresentations of classic works such as Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations. (I encourage those who have found this blog to track down a copy of the book and read it. Until you can, here is an excerpt: How did Americans come to trust markets more than government?)

The inescapable conclusion after reading Oreskes and Conway’s book is that the curriculum promoting free markets as a strategy for economic prosperity is a perfect example of political teaching. Teachers who adopt curriculum and instruction and that promotes thy myth of market effectiveness (and the book describes many efforts to force such curriculum into K-12 school and higher education classrooms) are teaching students what to think as there is no factual basis for the idea. There is no evidence supporting the claims of free market advocates and there is plenty of evidence that free markets produce less than optimal (and in many cases undesirable or dangerous) so the conclusion that teaching the benefits of free markets is teaching “the facts” is untenable.

Teachers (and those who advocate for any curriculum) must realize every curriculum is political in that it is teaching students what to think. If we have learned anything over the years that misinformation has dominated public discourse (and its history is far longer than many would think) it is that our decisions about teaching must be supported by evidence—real evidence that is transparently collected and confirmed and that logically analyzed. Increasingly, our existence depends on it.