My Epic Journey through the Curriculum (Part 1)
Understanding education and curriculum in this rapidly changing online environment is what I have spent the past 6 years studying. Lord willing, in a year or so, I will have completed my doctorate in education, learning design, and technology. What I have found in my studies, has brought me down a long and winding pathway that really started when I was 5. Two amazing things happened that year that have formed my life into what it is today. First, I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior. 5? Are you serious? Can a child understand everything there is to know about salvation at 5? Well, the answer to that is "no", they can’t understand everything, but they can understand enough. In fact, God’s Word tells us that unless we have childlike faith, we cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven. The second thing that happened in my 5th year of life was that my parents put me into a Christian school. Allow me to walk you through my journey that will show you how I’ve formed my thinking about Christian education and specifically, curriculum.
I attended that Christian school from K-12, with the exception of one semester when my mom tried to homeschool me. Let’s just say that that didn’t go really well, so before I knew it, I was back in the Christian school. My school used Abeka Books for almost all of the subjects, so my indoctrination into the Abeka way started early. After high school graduation, I attended Pensacola Christian College where I received my undergraduate degree in youth ministries with a concentration in physical education. It was during this time that I developed a love for the Abeka Books that I had used throughout my elementary and high school career. You see, PCC is where they write and print Abeka Books. During my freshman year, I had Dr. Chapman as my English professor. He is the guy that wrote the grammar book I used in high school. It was like I was in a land of educational giants! Interestingly, I was roommates and good friends with a kid who would go on to become the head of the math department at PCC and would ultimately co-author the new algebra 2 textbook that I taught for 5 years. (Sidenote: I felt like his editor during my first year teaching the book. My students and I found quite a few syntactical errors that I was happy to share with my friend. Yes, I enjoyed pointing out his mistakes . . . isn't that what friends are for?) So why am I telling you this? I am telling you this so you understand my background and you can understand the scope and sequence (see what I did there? A little curriculum humor . . . ) of the journey I have been on that has formed my view of curriculum.
After graduating, I took my first, post-college, job. Believe it or not, I was a “Learning Center Supervisor” for a Christian school in Michigan’s upper peninsula. It was a tiny school with less than 50 students K-12. This was my first introduction to ACE or School of Tomorrow curriculum. This is the time period that I met my wife, Julia, who went all the way through school with the ACE program. She was actually teaching 5th-6th grade at her school when we met. Surprisingly, we met online, and it was just a “coincidence” that she was also in an ACE school. After 13 years of grade school and 5 years of college (yes, it took me 5 years to make it through 4 years of college but that’s another story for another blog post) I was not extremely impressed with ACE. I felt like it had its plusses, but overall, in my uneducated opinion, it was far inferior to the Cadillac of Christian curriculum, Abeka Books. After all, I had just spent 5 years at "Abeka Mecca.” (Ya, I liked that one too!) I was fully indoctrinated at this point.
My next teaching job was at a little bigger school in a Detroit suburb. Talk about a change of lifestyle. Going from the U.P. of Michigan to Metro Detroit was a culture shock and a half! As different as it was, I actually think I liked it better. The faster-paced lifestyle suited me more than the great outdoors lifestyle of the U.P. I was somewhat of an outcast "up north" because I wasn’t a deer hunter, although, I do love fishing, so that helped me fit in a little. Anyways, I digress. . . At this new school near Detroit, I was the PE guy, the AD, and the Bible teacher. (I did teach a history class or two along the way as well.) The school used a hodgepodge of curriculum from different designers like Abeka, Saxon, and BJU Press (which is a lot like Abeka if you are not familiar). I didn’t really get into curriculum much in this school as my job centered more on the athletics than it did on the academic, but still, nothing had taken that place of the mighty Abeka Books in my mind.
My next teaching job was at a little bigger school in a Detroit suburb. Talk about a change of lifestyle. Going from the U.P. of Michigan to Metro Detroit was a culture shock and a half! As different as it was, I actually think I liked it better. The faster-paced lifestyle suited me more than the great outdoors lifestyle of the U.P. I was somewhat of an outcast "up north" because I wasn’t a deer hunter, although, I do love fishing, so that helped me fit in a little. Anyways, I digress. . . At this new school near Detroit, I was the PE guy, the AD, and the Bible teacher. (I did teach a history class or two along the way as well. The school used a hodgepodge of curriculum from different designers like Abeka, Saxon, and BJU Press (which is a lot like Abeka if you are not familiar). I didn’t really get into curriculum much in this school as my job centered more on the athletics than it did on the academic, but still, nothing had taken that place of the mighty Abeka Books in my mind.
I also got my real estate license and worked for Lowes and CVS/Pharmacy during that 5-year pause in education. At the end of that sabbatical, God called my wife and me into missions. The mission field we chose was the Dominican Republic. No, of course, we didn’t speak any Spanish at the time. Why would that be important when thinking about moving to a Spanish-speaking country?? (Yet another blog post for another day). In spite of our early blunders and naivety, God directed us to a small, 3-year-old, bilingual Christian school in the city of San Pedro where we have spent the last decade of our lives. In fact, I am sitting in my apartment in San Pedro right now as I am typing this post.
Las Palmas Christian School has now grown to around 500 students and it is internationally accredited through ACSI. One of the early struggles the school endured was that it was trying to get away with using any random curriculum that it could find for cheap or free. We got most of it from schools in the States that had closed or phased out old curriculum. We ended up with about 7 different publishers represented in the 6 grades that we offered at that time. On my first day on the job, I asked the teacher who had previously taught the class I would be teaching, to show me where the students were in their books, so I knew what to expect. She said, "Well, we kind of just skipped around and hit a few of the major topics, but to be honest, I think they would probably benefit if you just started the books over from the beginning." No lie, that conversation really happened. In other words, there was no way for her to measure the progress that the students had made. My next stop was the principal’s office to discuss the curriculum. The principal had just arrived at the school a month or two before me, so she was trying to wrap her mind around things as well. I’m sure you can imagine what my suggestion for curriculum was. . . That’s right . . .you guessed it . . . I told her we needed the Cadillac! I said something like, “Let’s import Abeka Books to the Dominican Republic!” Somewhat to my surprise, the principal agreed with me as did several other teachers, so we began the process of switching over all the English subjects curriculum to Abeka. (We teach math, English, and science in English and history, Spanish, and electives in Spanish.) This was probably the single greatest thing that the new principal could have done for the school. Not switching to Abeka, but rather the standardization of the curriculum, regardless of the publisher. It was a key to future growth and something that needed to be done to lay the groundwork for our accreditation. There were also problems, like for example, our bilingual students were struggling to do the English on grade level, so we backed up all the English books one year, which really helped the students. Third-grade students were doing second-grade English, but in the other subjects, we were able to keep them on grade level.
After a couple of years of me teaching in the upper elementary, the school expanded to add some middle and high school grades. I
volunteered to take on upper-level math, I mean, how hard could it be? We had my beloved Abeka Books to help guide me through it. Well, little did I know that becoming the math teacher would completely change my life. I had no idea what kind of journey it would take me on, but wow, did it ever take me on a journey!!
So after this 6-year journey of teaching math and working on my master's degree and doctorate degree . . . What do I think about Abeka now? Is it still the Cadillac? My answer might surprise you . . . To Be Continued!