Who should control the content of school curriculum?
The question of who should control the content of school curriculum is, according to my understanding of education, very deep and not answerable in a direct fashion. Education, like any other service in the economy, is a product (a joint product to be sure, but a product nonetheless). If we replace “content of school curriculum” with another product, say an “the features of an automobile,” the depth of the question becomes a bit more exposed. Additionally, we have the qualification of “who should,” begging a case for justification beyond “who does.”
Let’s look at the automobile example. Who does control the features of the automobile? The engineers who design it? The executives who give those engineers a mandate for design based on their marker research? Or is it the consumer who votes with their dollar on what features they want and at what price? The answer, is all of these, but in the relationship between the three it is the consumer who has the most power, because without his money neither the company manager nor the engineer can get paid.
Imagine that the same arrangement were like schools. The money would be taken forcefully from the consumer, the executive would compose a list of demands for what he thinks the consumer ought to want, and the engineer would attempt to meet these demands within the confines of a set amount of excised money. At the end of it, the consumer would be handed the automobile everyone else thinks he ought to have, and if he dislikes it, his only option would be to purchase a different one at additional expense, keeping in mind he has already paid for the first car, and also lose access to the one into which he has paid. If he lacks funds to do so, he cannot buy another car. Moreover, he is required by law to not only pay for the car, but to drive it for 13 years.
Democracy is little help in this situation. If you are truly dissatisfied, the consumer can rally support from others like him, and after four years hire a new executive with new promises to change the automobile. He may get more of what he wants, but what about the minority who loses the election and gets even less of what they want? Ultimately, this is why products in a free market serve everyone without the need for political intervention. Everyone gets what car they want, or what education they want for their children.
So, who should control the school curriculum? Ultimately, families should, who are in both the best position to determine the needs of their children and the best position to communicate those needs to administrators (the executives in the above example) and the teachers (the engineers). They may do this the way consumers control all other products: choice. Now, this is an opinion; if you do not believe in freedom, and think either the executives or the engineers should design the product the consumer ought to want, then the consumers should remain disinvested of power, but I believe in freedom. Freedom in choice produces a diversity of products, and I think diversity in education is precisely what is needed, for indeed we have a very diverse country.
This opinion was influenced by the great Milton Friedman, a nobel-prize winning economist (and also a teacher), who proposed a model of school choice back in the 1962 work Capitalism and Freedom. I’d like to post a link to his 1980 PBS series, based on a book he wrote with his wife Rose called Free to Choose. This episode deals with education choice. It’s worth a watch even if you don’t believe in school choice, as it offers up debate in the second half of the program.