What’s Missing From Education Reform in America?

The Sixties: Mini Classes and Modular Scheduling

“The thing the sixties did was to show us the possibilities and the  responsibility that we all had.”—John Lennon

Black Light . . . strobe light . . . multimedia learning.  The late sixties brought the dawning of the Age of Aquarius: Civil rights.Student rights. The Women’s Movement. The Whole Earth Network. And voices crying for peace. The counterculture was having an effect. The pressure was on the white man’s curriculum to become more inclusive. The problem was that with the National Defense Act of 1958, schools had deemphasized classes in the arts and humanities, courses that could have served as the foundation for a more inclusive curriculum. The war in Vietnam had also diverted attention and resources from President Johnson’s effort to ensure more equality in education through his War on Poverty legislation.

As school districts came under pressure to change the traditional white man’s curriculum, the white men who were still in charge gave interest groups what they wanted. But instead of creating a more inclusive curriculum, they introduced the concepts of modular scheduling and mini-classes in order to offer courses in subjects such as black literature, Native American history, women’s studies, and macramé. The problem was that these courses were not incorporated into the curriculum. They were simply tacked on to it and offered to students as electives, creating a more subtle type of exclusion.

Also during this period, emphasis was more on content than skill development so that minorities and the poor remained at a disadvantage, a problem frequently compounded by the effects of white flight to the suburbs that began in the fifties. While administrators avoided charges of discrimination and quelled unrest surrounding the demands of the various minorities, change was an illusion because the system remained largely intact.