There is a variety of ways that students can learn. Schools may choose one or more of these, and the choice matters.
The traditional arrangement assumes that teachers have a greater mastery of the material, and a way to impart that knowledge or skill as students work to learn it. The subject matter is considered beneficial to all students, often by helping them learn even more beneficial things later. Teachers bring students into contact with a body of knowledge that exists outside themselves, knowledge that has proven to be a blessing for generations of people, and will certainly help young scholars today. The manner of learning can vary, but the teachers are in charge of bringing each group of students into contact with the material, and even deciding which parts of the material should receive the greatest emphasis.
A more recently developed arrangement puts students in the driver’s seat, while teachers assume the role of a guide or coach. Direct instruction is discouraged. Students decide which courses and subjects are best for themselves based on their own interests, and have freedom to do or study as they see the need. This arrangement prioritizes the interests and inclinations of students above all else, even when they are biased against something as a result of knowing little about it.
A third arrangement puts teachers in the role of managers, while a universal curriculum assumes the role of the teacher. Students progress independently through a sequence of materials that takes them incrementally from the beginning of their education to the end. Teachers don’t need subject mastery and they can handle a much larger group of students, because they only need to help students maintain their momentum through the prearranged curriculum. It makes a school less expensive to operate, and can be an advantage for busy parents in a homeschool setting. While it does impart the knowledge contained in the program, this arrangement loses the personal touch that students will miss without a teacher actively sharing the knowledge and skills that students may need, and actively differentiating based on students’ prior experience, personalities, and gifts. It’s not easy to add or remove things from the curriculum.
Of these three teaching arrangements, Columbia uses the first. It’s not the easiest for our teachers or the least expensive, but with small class sizes it provides the best learning opportunities for the widest variety of students.