Course Content And Teaching Methods


In educating students for adult work and adult life, American schools try, above all, to be practical. American education has been greatly influenced by the writings of a famous 20th century philosopher named John Dewey. Dewey believed that the only worthwhile knowledge was knowledge that could be used. He convinced educators that it was pointless to make students memorize useless facts that they would quickly forget. Rather, schools should teach thinking process and skills that affect how people live and work.

Dewey also influenced teaching techniques. Education must be meaningful, and children learn best by doing -these are the basic ideas of progressive education. Thus, science is taught largely through student experimentation; the study of music involves making music; democratic principles are put into practice in the student council; group projects encourage creativity, individual initiative, leadership, and teamwork.
  What do American schools see as their educationl responsibility to students? The scope is very broad indeed. Today's schools teach skills and information once left for the parents to teach at home. For example, it is common for the public school curriculum to include a campaign against cigarette smoking and drug abuse, a course in driver's education, cooking and sewing classes, consumer education, and sex education. Most American grammar schools have also added computer skills to their curriculum. As human knowledge has expanded and life has become increasingly complex, the schools have had to go far beyond the original three Rs ("reading, writing, and "rithmetic') that they were created to teach.
  American high schools have a dual commitment (a) to offer a general college preparatory program for those are interested in higher education; and b) to provide opportunities for vocational training for students who plan to enter the work force immediately after high school graduation. For the college-bound, high schools offer advanced classes in math, sciences, social sciences, English, and foreign languages. They also have Advanced Placement (AP) courses, which enable good students to earn college credit while still in high school. But in the same building, other students take vocational courses such as shorthand and mechanical drawing, and some participate in work/ study programs which enable them to get high school credit for on-the-job training in various occupations.
  Today, more than ever before, American schools are committed to helping foreign-born students adjust to life in an American classroom. The Bilingual Education Act of 1986 provided federal funds for bilingual instruction, which allows students to study academic subjects totally or partially in their native language while they are learning English. Bilingual education is offered in about 70 languages including Chinese, Spanish, Vietnamese, and several American Indian languages. Of course, this type of instruction is available only where a number of students speak the same foreign language. In addition, immigrant students have benefited from the 1974 Supreme Court ruling requiring public schools to provide special programs for students who speak little or no English. Today, English as a second language instruction is common in American elementary and high schools.