The Value of a Robust Core Curriculum, with Bill Nye

In his recent Big Think interview, Bill Nye proposed his version of an ideal core curriculum. Spoiler Alert: there's science involved.


As Bill explains, incorporating science and math into the elementary core curriculum is vitally important because future scientists develop their passion for those subjects during the 8-10 age range. It's much rarer for doctors or astronauts to be late converts. For this reason, Bill stresses the need to invest in a strong elementary core curriculum.

But aren't core curricula controversial? Bill explains two reasons why people bear apprehensions. One of these he says is a legitimate concern. The other, not so much.

"The first reason, my perception is they are afraid having these Core Curricula, these standards, prohibits teachers from having time to do other stuff that they're good at. It takes away from other things that a teacher brings to the party."

Does an intense focus on core curriculum stifle creativity? Does a rigid adherence to core standards sap teachers of their passion? These are among the many complaints you hear about programs like Common Core. Bill acknowledges that the spontaneity and fun that comes from a good teacher given a long leash shouldn't become collateral damage to inflexible compliance.

"By having too many standards that have to be met too rigorously, the concern is that you'll keep students from having any fun and getting excited about anything."

The other major complaint comes from people who Bill determines are intent to "[teach] their kids things that are inconsistent with what we know about science." The purpose of a core curriculum is to get everybody in a community on the same page with regard to what they know. As common knowledge makes for a stronger society, there needs to be a minimum standard for reading, writing, math, and science. And among the important things everyone needs to know about science is basic facts about biology and evolution. Ignorance of these subjects leads to misguided policy decisions, among other societal detriments.

So what would Bill Nye include in his ideal core curriculum? 

"Everybody's got to learn a little bit of physics, chemistry, mathematics and you got to learn some evolution. You've got to learn some biology...

Everybody's got to learn the alphabet. Everybody's got to learn to read. The U.S. Constitution is written in English so everybody's got to learn to read English. It would be great if you learned some tonal languages, some romance language. That would be good, but our laws are written in English so everybody's got to learn to read English. Everybody's got to learn math. Everybody's got to learn some algebra. Everybody's got to learn some biology including evolution."

For more about the importance of a robust Core Curriculum (as well as to hear his passable Cowardly Lion impersonation), watch this clip from Bill's Big Think Interview:

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