The upcoming Minnetonka School Board election brings to mind many questions. One of those has to do with defects in the curriculum.
The purpose of public education is to prepare free men and women to be citizens of our republic. American citizens are connected by their allegiance not to “blood” of a particular kind but a set of ideas. As President Lincoln put it, they are dedicated to certain propositions. But the Minnetonka High School curriculum provides no way for students to know what those ideas are, where they came from, and what challenges they have faced. A student can graduate from Minnetonka (see the district’s social studies requirements on the district’s website) lacking that necessary knowledge. The only American history course available to non-AP students covers the period from WWI to the present, according to the course catalog on the district’s website. Study of the origins of our country is nowhere to be found. Additionally, no dedicated course concerns itself primarily with the most important American historical documents (the Declaration, the Constitution, the Gettysburg Address and so forth). There is a course for ninth-graders called Civics and Human Geography, but neither the course description nor conversations with students indicates that any serious study of the original documents in their entirety goes on. (To anticipate: please don’t tell me that all this has been learned in middle school.)
More generally, those who have thought about the matter agree that an essential part of liberal education is “to know the chief rival attitudes toward life, as the history of human thinking has developed them, and to have heard some of the reasons they can give for themselves.” One likely place a student might learn about those attitudes is English class. At Minnetonka High School, however, a student in the Vantage program can substitute classes called Global Business and Digital Journalism for two of the four English classes required for graduation. By these two defects in the curriculum — the absence of an adequate American history requirement and the watered down English requirement — the district has failed to provide an adequate general education to its students and has ignored the overriding purpose of public education. That, in turn, indicates that the board either is unfamiliar with the curriculum it is supposed to be overseeing or that it has no clear idea of what purpose public education should have.
The citizens of the district might want to consider whether they want a public high school that is a more serious place than a combination test preparation center/white-collar vocational school.