Problems of the Traditional School Curriculum

Why School? By Mike Rose is a well written little book that raises big questions with our educational system today. Rose’s writing style is reflective , qualitative, and contextual by using a collection of essays, from his personal past, that transition smoothly and shows the reader the issues with the current educational system. Rose has 40 years of experience in teaching and traveled across the nation to observe the different teaching styles in different areas. He saw the good and the bad with education and feels that we have “lost our way”, in teaching our students.

He describes teachings as becoming to narrow focused on standardized testing. He believes that students are intelligent in many different ways and their intellect should not be measured by a test.

In the beginning chapters, Mike Rose explains what education is and why we teach it. We educate for a number of reasons, and people have written about them since the first decades of the republic: to pass on traditions and knowledge, to prepare the young for democratic life, to foster moral and intellectual growth, to enable individual and societal economic prosperity (p.

32). Rose states that this is all true and reflects on his travels on finding good teachings with the students well-being in mind. Rose has a great appreciation for those who go above and beyond with their teachings, as he believes good education saved his life.

Rose had a rough upbringing in life and lived in a rough neighborhood. The schools he attended to were not so great and his grades either.

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It took until late in high school and during his first couple years in college, he met some great influential teachers that changed the course of his life. With out these teachers go above and beyond to care for Rose and his peers, who knows what direction Roses life could’ve went. An example of a great teacher is Stephanie Terry. Rose finds himself observing this wonderful teaching and has a great feeling when seeing students happy expressions. Through Terrys artful teachings she was able to have her young students engaged on their class hermit crab. They were able to record on what they found and report on it. Schooling like this is a powerful thing to witness (p.41).

A big theme in this book is that students deserve to have equal opportunity. Through Roses travels he was able to observe good teachings and bad teachings and even poor schools struggling to get by with scarce materials. The students that did good at these poor schools usually did not do good in college. For instance, Rose tells a story about one of his students, Kevin, who grew up in a bad area but was a good student in a poor school. Kevin graduated high school, but when it came to his first writing assignment in college, the placement test, it “was peppered with grammatical errors, and the writing was disorganized and vague” (p.127). Rose noticed that the majority of students are becoming under prepared for college due to these unfortunate circumstances.

Another reason students are being properly prepared for college is the current curricula of standardized testing. What has become of education today is the preparation of the big standardized testing that measures each students level of intelligence. This was started in 2001 by the NCLB (No Child Left Behind) Act. Rose questions this act and the teaches that come with it. Since federal funding is affected by these test scores, he worries that students are being taught to memorize what could be on the test instead of learning vital tools for growth and development . Students are not learning the fundamentals of education any more like writing essays, music recitals, or the performance of an experiment, but instead practicing multiple choice questions. All this is good for schools who want to get funded , but is it really preparing our kids for the future?

A solution Rose proposes is for college campuses to push remedial programs. “Remedial Programs are necessary if we want to educate a wide sweep of our citizenry. They serve as a corrective to the impersonal dispensary that lowery division education has become. And if we are wise enough to see, they can be a source of valuable information”(p. 124). These courses, also known as developmental or basic skills education, generally cover high school material and are aimed at students deemed unprepared for college-level work. But Rose believes we need to update these programs like the title in chapter 10 states “Re-mediating Remediation”.

The majority of colleges and universities are going away from the use of remedial programs. The reason the majority of campuses want to go away from the development programs is because most students get stuck in those classes and never make much progress. In fact, many students drop out because of this. The issues with the traditional program is that they are still too difficult and only frustrated the students into believing they were not capable of having a higher education. But Rose knows how flawed the old traditional remedial system is and in fact created his own version at his UCLA campus. Rose states “Kick remediation off campus, and the primary thing you will achieve is the greater exclusion of American youth from higher education” (p. 124). Rose and his co-workers did their research and discovered a great formula that has a more successful rate. They determined that students needed to put “college work” on pause, and go back to square one. They would create assignments from less to more difficult and made them cumulative: what a student learned to do the first week fed into an assignment on the fifth (p. 129). Mike Rose is a firm believer in this system as he has seen it work with many students. The Remedial program that Rose and is co-workers created at UCLA became a model of success and proves the good that it can produce.

Rose reflects back when he taught English in a special program for Vietnam vets. This program was a twelve-week crash course to prepare soldiers for college. The curriculum prepped soldiers for English, psychology, communications, and mathematics classes. It also worked with their social skills in critical reading, writing, and human relations. This program went above and beyond and would have staff even follow up on veterans who did not show up to class, Offered financial counseling, and helped apply for colleges. “This is how really to support our troops. And it is how we should think about an education that, of necessity, has to go beyond the classroom”. Rose really got a sense of how hard life would be after service and questions why don’t we do the same programs for our Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. Yes, there are programs to help, but they do not go to this extent that Mike went through. Just a few basic skills courses and tutoring. Rose adds that todays politicians often use this slogan as their trump card for political gain, “support our troops”, but do not usually take action. Rose wants to give the Iraq and Afghanistan vets the opportunity the Vietnam vets received.

Rose believes that we are trapped in a language through schooling that stresses economics, accountability, and compliance. Theses are important issues but do not create the personal dreams and democratic aspirations. So we must become uncluttered by the common discourse that surrounds public education and embrace the limitless possibilities that a student can achieve through good education. In Roses own words Literature and History gives an understanding to philosophy and art. Psychology gives an understanding to human behavior. Humanities and social sciences provide a set of tools to think with. While reading and writing gives you skills to think with and act on the word. Ultimately to acquire and use this knowledge, just feels good to know things and use what you know. The point of all this is that intelligence is the process of growing up. Finding and understanding ourselves and our place in the universe.

Why school? By Mike Rose really grabs the audience’s attention through out the whole book by his interesting experiences in life. And as the reader, this book had me also thinking about my upbringing in school. It had me reflecting on my own stories, as well as comparing my stories to his told in the book. He Opened the eyes of many and showed us all that we still have much work to do with our current educational system.

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Problems of the Traditional School Curriculum. (2021, Dec 19). Retrieved from

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