On Writing Curriculum
by Carole Marsh Longmeyer, Founder and CEO, Gallopade International
How do we at Gallopade write a state social studies curriculum?
With fear and trembling. With humility. With a lot of suffering.
I always say, “If you are not suffering, you are not writing.”
It is an awesome undertaking to write the story of a state for the students who live there and the teachers who teach there. It is a privilege and a peculiar commitment. Yes, this is how we make our living, but that is not how we approach a state curriculum.
I truly believe that everything a child needs to know can be learned out their own back door, in their neighborhood and community, and that when they learn about their state, they can better learn about the world.
And then, there’s the research; Lordy, do we do research! The desks in Gallopade’s editorial department begin to pile up like snowdrifts with books and articles, maps, and Googled pages. Our own library has a longtime and well-curated batch of books in all 50 states. We pull primary resources, art, graphics, and then…
"These Standards will become our roadmap, our guidebook, our GPS of what a state wants its students to learn."
…The Standards. These will become our roadmap, our guidebook, and our GPS of what a state wants its students to learn. The standards are both helpful and a conundrum. They are a great outline of the scope and specifics of what is to be taught, but then it is up to us to figure out how to best tell it, tailor it for the grade level, be brief but clear, comprehensive, and have an impact. It is not easy. All those blank pages, and yet we do not have the luxury of an open-ended story. We must get the job done that needs to be done, then hush.
The writing begins. There is a lot of silence, but then come the debates: this or that word; this fact or another? This person? This interpretation? No bias of any kind; let the students learn the facts and make up their own minds. Oh, yes, we suffer! But we also enjoy the challenge and learning ourselves. I would like to say that we have the superintendent of schools foremost in our minds, or the curriculum supervisor, or the teachers, but we do not.
We keep a vision of the boy or girl before us. Are they understanding? Engaged? Interested? But that is not enough for us. Are they amazed and intrigued? Do they want to know more? Are they enjoying the learning journey? That matters. If their brows wrinkle in puzzlement, we rewrite. If they nod in comprehension, we smile. Whew, this is a hard task, but worth it. There are late nights, early mornings, meetings, discussions, and disagreements, but our resolve to do the best we can for the students (and with all our new teacher tools and digital doodahs, for the teachers as well). We appreciate the oversight of the state powers-that-be to vet our drafts and add clarity, complaint, and compliment. It takes a village.
The second draft, the third. We are in the short rows now. Deadlines approach, but it is not done until it’s really done. Not until it’s worthy. Not until we love it. Actually. For me, not until we’ve lived it! Whether it’s the history of the state, the explanation of how government works, or the histories of ancient Greece and Rome, it just doesn’t seem right until we feel we’ve been there, have dust left on our feet, have become the student ourselves and feel enthralled, motivated, and satisfied.
Oops, we are never satisfied. There is always something new to learn under the sun. Now, in spite of months of hard effort, we suddenly do not want to be done. Here’s another story—can we use it? Ah, look at this awesome photograph—is there space for it? How about this person—we can’t leave them out! It becomes a labor of love until we are plum worn out and it is time to offer up our best efforts. My daughter, Michele Yother, is head of New Product Development; she is a tough taskmaster.
“They love us,” he said. He was in awe, humble. “I know,” I said. “It’s not because we’re perfect; it’s because we care.”
There is a lot of satisfaction in curriculum writing. My son, Michael Longmeyer, returned from a trip to present our Tennessee curriculum to teachers. “They love us,” he said. He was in awe, humble. “I know,” I said. “It’s not because we’re perfect; it’s because we care.” I think we often forget how much they depend on us?
Our reward for doing a great job is this: To be on deck when the standards begin to change almost as soon as books are done and shipped! Oddly, that’s the fun part—to be always involved and evolving with living history. Gallopade’s reputation has been built on our willingness and ability to produce living documents that we can change at will so that teachers and students get the most current and accurate history that can be told. It’s about a lot more than just passing the tests!
After our curriculum is out and about and widely in use across the state, we often get praise and compliments of appreciation. That’s nice. We never hear from the kids, of course, but you know, one day we will: When they are state or U.S. senators, lawyers, doctors, inventors, artists, or whatever wonderful person they become!