The particular practice test that I took required me to write an essay, in thirty minutes or less, either supporting or opposing implementing a mandated national curriculum for all students in the United States from kindergarten to college. Here was my response:
Since taking the practice test I have spent a bit of time thinking about my twenty-minute essay response. My immediate negative reaction to the proposed idea demonstrates what I view to be a fundamental flaw in many restrictive social systems--the emphasis on conformity. While the pressure to conform has the essential benefit of maintaining a structured society, it also has the potential, when taken to its extreme, to hamper innovation, limit individuality, and restrict the rights and freedoms of the members of that society.Quality education is fundamental to the success of society. Therefore, the national government should do everything within its power to ensure that all children receive a high-quality education. While one may think that a set national curriculum is the appropriate means of achieving this goal, having a national curriculum would like do more harm than good. Requiring a national curriculum would reduce innovation within education, limit the ability of educators to individualize the educational process, and restrict some of the freedoms that are part of the foundation of a free country.
Human knowledge and discovery develops over time, and this is certainly true in the field of education. Researchers in the field of education, which is part science and part art, regularly develop new theories which enhance or even transform the way that educators view the educational process. In order for a new hypothesis to be accepted as a theory, it must be empirically tested in an educational setting. If schools are required to follow a national curriculum, the opportunities to develop and test new theories, as well as the motivation to do so, will be greatly decreased.
No two students are alike, and it therefore follows that it would be ineffective to teach all students in the same manner. Some students are more talented at certain subjects than other students and therefore students should be given the opportunity to take advanced or remedial courses as needed. There is also a wide discrepancy amongst students and even among regions of the country in terms of student preparation and motivation. Students who come from disadvantaged backgrounds would likely need more educational support than a standard curriculum would provide, while students from other backgrounds may find the additional support redundant.
Additionally, imposing a federally-mandated curriculum limits the rights of parents to control the upbringing of their children. In a free society, parents are given the ability, within reason, to educate their children according to their values. Therefore, parents who prefer one type of education over another, regardless of whether the preference is based on educational reasons, religious reasons, or philosophical reasons, should be given the right to educate their children according to their beliefs, provided that a minimum standard of competence is met.
Therefore, in the interest of providing a solid education for all children within a free society, a national curriculum should not be implemented. The federal government should instead actively encourage educational innovation within school systems and provide for a diversity of educational options for the public. Allowing for a wide variety of educational approaches is the best way to implement unique and appropriate educational techniques for every child.
It seems clear that the best, although by virtue of its subjectivity somewhat flawed, approach is to strike an appropriate balance between the two extremes. This can be achieved by having some degree of structure and rules that all members of society need to follow, while allowing for individuality and alternative approaches whenever possible. Regarding the topic of the essay, the best approach would be to have some general minimal educational guidelines that all schools, public or private (Ohalei Torah, are you listening?), are required to meet while allowing flexibility in all other areas of the curriculum.
To those who are left inside, I would like to ask a simple question. Is it worth it to have a smaller box with more structure and more exclusivity? Do you understand that not everyone can fit into such a small box? The answer is not that we should try harder or have more bitul. No amount of bitul in the world can make one box work for everyone. Every individual is unique so why can't we build our own boxes, or better yet, a box big enough to fit everyone's little boxes?