Cowboy Up

by Robert Pondiscio
December 9th, 2009

The business book Cowboy Ethics purports to hold lessons for Wall Streeters about the “code of the west,” but a Colorado teacher believes it’s a good vehicle for reaching high school students and giving them “the personal qualities they will need to achieve true career and life success.”

A story in the Denver Post describes how teacher Ann Moore’s “cowboy curriculum”  has spread to a schools in half a dozen other states since she first taught the book in her classroom at Cherry Creek High School, in Greenwood Village, Colorado.   When I saw the story, my immediate reaction was “here we go again, another dumbed down class substituting personal reflection for engagement with literature.”  The Denver Post story doesn’t help by calling it a “curriculum” and noting that at least one school dropped Shakespeare to make room for Cowboy Ethics.

But do a little digging, and it turns out that it’s not a curriculum at all, but rather a four-week unit on character education.  A video on the unit gives a better feel for how it might play out in class.  It’s not hard to see how this unit could actually pay dividends, enriching future literature studies by giving kids a set of traits by which to judge and discuss characters they encounter in literature.  I remain skeptical of any trendy course or curriculum where academic content plays second fiddle to ”student engagement.”   Cowboy ethics doesn’t seem to be one of them.  It would be interesting to hear from teachers who have taught the unit in their classrooms.

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