Social and Cultural Foundations of American Education/Forgotten Half/Curriculum

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Who is the curriculum designed for, and why?

What were you thinking when you read the title of this chapter? “The Forgotten Half? What’s that?” Or “I already know this answer... the curriculum is designed for all students.” Unfortunately, there is a group of students in the United States who have been referred to as forgotten for nearly twenty years. This same group of students is not inspired to pursue higher education, nor responds to the traditional curriculum being taught in schools. In order to prepare us to professionally teach in the near future, we need to understand the students who make up the forgotten half, the problems with curriculum in schools, and what we can do as teachers to help these young people use their talents to the best of their abilities.

Who Are They?[edit]

A two-year study took place in 1988 by the William T. Grant Foundation Commission on Work, Family, and Citizenship. This study focused on the then 20-million non-college bound youth in our country, dubbed ‘The Forgotten Half.’ These were, and still are, the young people who, statistically, fill many types of service roles and essentially maintain the function of our nation’s economy. There are several reasons students fall into the forgotten half category. According to Dr. Dwight Allen in his online lecture on this topic, poverty is one of the most obvious reasons, but it is not limited to simply financial poverty which first comes to mind. The majority also have poverty of aspiration, poverty of decision-making skills, and lack a support system which stretches beyond their structured school day. These students are also dealing with substance abuse, institutionalized sexism and racism, and negative role models.[1]

The Original Report[edit]

The original WTG Foundation report suggested our school system was certainly not preparing this particular group of students for the school-to-work transition. As a result of the WTG Foundation Commission’s report, The U.S. Secretary of Labor created the Secretary’s Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills (SCANS) in 1991. SCANS’ mission was to define the necessary functional and enabling skills that society must provide to every child by the age of 16. The products of the research were issued in a report titled “What Work Requires of Schools: A SCANS Report for America 2000.” The report identified five competencies and foundation skills necessary to achieve those competencies. They included the following:

  1. Resources (identifies, organizes, plans, and allocates resources)
  2. Interpersonal (works with others)
  3. Information (acquires and uses information)
  4. Systems (understands complex inter-relationships)
  5. Technology (works with a variety of technology).[2]


In essence, these are employability skills. As noted by Overtoom in a recent ERIC digest article, “employability skills are defined as transferable core skill groups that represent essential functional and enabling knowledge, skills, and attitudes required by the 21st century workplace.”[3] They are necessary for career success at all levels of employment and for all levels of education. Every person needs to develop these skills to ensure a productive place in society, whether pursuing higher education or not. Too many students leave their formal education inadequately prepared, academically and vocationally, for a lifetime of sustained working and learning.[4]

The Follow-Up Report[edit]

The Forgotten Half Revisited, a follow-up report presented ten years after the original, revealed the majority of students leave school without a solid base of academic and SCANS skills that will enable them to succeed in postsecondary occupational or academic education. The same types of results were demonstrated in this report as in the WTG Foundation study. A survey conducted for this publication determined an overall negative trend for this segment of young people with the following findings: Almost half of all Americans and two-thirds of employers do not believe a high school diploma is a guarantee that a student has learned the basics. Six of ten Americans say academic standards are too low in their children’s schools. Three-fourths of all Americans say that drugs and violence are serious problems in their schools.[5]

Additional Problems[edit]

Along with drugs and violence, our schools and students face additional serious problems. The No Child Left Behind initiatives in high school are focused on a pre-college curriculum with federal money virtually eliminated from vocational education. Research shows 90% of California ninth and tenth graders would be more motivated by classes relevant to their future careers. Arnold Schwarzenegger, governor of California, is requesting $50 million for this year’s budget in new funds for high school vocational education programs.[6] According to a recent TIME magazine article, a school district near Indianapolis will continue to support the Blue River vocational school, where more than 300 students spend afternoons learning different trades, such as marketing, auto repair, and nursing (Thornburgh, 2006).[7] These are examples of society recognizing how important it is that all students need to develop applicable skill sets for their future, along with the pre-college curriculum already working for the half of students pursuing higher education.

What Educators Can Do[edit]

According to a 1998 University of Michigan study, high-risk students are eight to ten times less likely to drop out if they enter a career-tech program. And the notion that career tech is useful only for the student with no college plans is outdated; students who have taken career tech enter college at the same rate as other high school graduates.

What can we do, as future educators, to make sure the forgotten half is not forgotten in our classrooms? Throughout the twentieth century, national commissions on vocational education repeatedly urged stronger connections to the academic curriculum (Grubb, 1995b). As teachers, we need to develop ways to integrate curriculum to increase student achievement. This will require us to move away from standard, familiar instructional techniques. Educational objectives need to be clearly defined and both academic and industry skill standards need to direct the learning. Integrated learning can offer students a deeper understanding when ‘learning by doing’ is adopted as a dominant practice.

Not only do we need to be creative and thoughtful regarding our teaching strategies, we are responsible for providing personal support to our students. How can we expect many of our students to learn and keep up with others when they do not have the same support systems outside of school? We also need to make sure we are helping students as they encounter problems, rather than when they are too far behind to catch up, referred to as “real-time remediation”. Although it can be difficult, teachers need to effectively encourage group work and team-building activities in the classroom.[8]


The curriculum being taught in schools is mainly focused on the student population seeking post-secondary education. Although that is most likely the type of education you and I have received, we cannot forget, or be oblivious to the different backgrounds, economic situations, family lives, and attitudes we will be faced with in each one of our students. Our job is to reach out to these young minds each day, regardless of their post-secondary plans, and do everything we can to prepare them for life.

Multiple Choice Questions[edit]

Click to reveal the answer.

A student with the feeling “It doesn’t matter if I stay in school or drop out…I’ll never get a good job.” Is an example of which type of poverty facing the forgotten half?
A. Financial poverty
B. Aspiration poverty
C. Support-system poverty
D. Decision-making poverty

B. Aspiration poverty

Michael was recently complimented by his boss on his time management, budget forecasting, and organizational skills. Which of the following SCANS competencies is described by Michael’s actions?
A. Information
B. Interpersonal
C. Resources
D. Technology

C. Resources

The SCANS competencies and skill sets define what particular type of skills?
A. Productive skills
B. Commercialized skills
C. Development skills
D. Employability skills

D. Employability skills

Mr. Evans went ahead and passed his student, Angie, on to the next grade, even though he knew during the semester she could not demonstrate the math skills necessary for 5th grade. What could Mr. Evans have done to help prevent this?
A. Real-time remediation.
B. Try to meet with Angie’s parents or guardians in hopes of generating more support.
C. Brainstorm different ways to present the material.
D. All of the above.

D. All of the above.

Jody is struggling with her job because she works with a team of people all day. She had always worked on her own in school and could go at her own pace with her own ideas. Which of the five SCANS competencies was not emphasized to Jody in school?
A. Interpersonal
B. Systems
C. Resources
D. Information

A. Interpersonal

Essay Question[edit]

Click to reveal sample responses.

Describe the group of students considered "The Forgotten Half" and the problems current educational curriculum poses for them.

In our society there is a group of students known as the forgotten half. These students are not inspired to pursue post secondary education and are not responding to the traditional curriculum being taught in our schools. Financial poverty is one of the most obvious reasons for students being a part of the forgotten half group. However, students may also have poverty in many other areas as well such as motivation, decision-making, or support systems such as, sadly enough, their own families. In addition to the many types of poverty these students experience, they also are being exposed to substance abuse, sexism, racism, and, through media and (in some cases) family members, negative role models. The problem posed from the schools is that they are not making sure these kids are gaining the basic academic understanding they are supposed to be learning. These understandings are the skills that will allow these kids to succeed in further higher education. Recently, there has been a big buzz about the no child left behind act. The problem with this in relation to the forgotten half is that there is next to no money that can be used for vocational education programs. Studies that have been done among high school freshman and sophomores show that they would be more motivated by classes that are relevant to their future plans and with money being cut for vocational education these opportunities are diminishing. Educators must do their part of helping these children succeed and we can only hope that will overtake the negative influences the majority of this world imposes on them as the forgotten half. —Cheryl Kurtz

The “forgotten half” are the students who don’t perform well academically in grades k-12. These aren’t necessary special education students, but those who are passed along to the next grade without possessing the proper skills. These students are treated like hot potatoes in the manner that no teacher wants to deal with helping the student because they present too much of a problem to what they desire in their classrooms. There are many factors that are linked with the forgotten students and poverty is the most popular. Financial poverty, although so prevalent, is the easiest to correct. I believe the most important factor is the lack of support systems behind these students. Many times, these students don’t have the support of their families regarding their education. The curriculum designed for students poses the greatest problem for these students. Curriculums are made and are set in place for several years. The problem with correcting the curriculum is that it can take 10-20 years to design and approve a new one that will suit every student. In order for the forgotten half to be considered, educators must take on the responsibility of finding the right program for these students or refer them to where they can be helped. —Marcus Anthony


  1. Allen, D. Lecture 10: “The forgotten half”. Retrieved September 6, 2006 from Old Dominion University, Dr. Dwight W. Allen’s Webpage:
  2. Secretary’s Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills. (1991). What Work Requires of Schools: A SCANS Report for America 2000. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Labor.
  3. Overtoom, C. (2000). Employability skills: an update [Electronic version]. ERIC Digest, No. 220
  4. Hoachlander, G. (1999, September). Integrating academic and vocational curriculum-why is theory so hard to practice? NORVE CenterPoint Series. Retrieved September 14, 2006 from the World Wide Web:
  5. Halperin, S., ed. (1998). The Forgotten Half Revisited. Washington, DC: American Youth Policy Forum.
  6. Keegan, R. (2006, April 17). Arnold sells his road to success. Time Magazine. 35, 37.
  7. Thornburgh, N. (2006, April 17). Droupout nation. Time Magazine. 42-45, 47-49, 65.
  8. Allen, D. Lecture 10: “The forgotten half”. Retrieved September 6, 2006 from Old Dominion University, Dr. Dwight W. Allen’s Webpage: