Monday, August 14, 2006

The Curriculum - 'just keeps rolling along'!

  Scene on the bank of the Mississippi. Posted by Picasa

Curriculum seems an innocuous word but, as it is conventionally understood, it is full of deadness and quiet oppression. It is what teachers and students must fit into - often to be 'judged' by those outside the classroom.

Curriculums are fragmented, divisible and assigned to different levels. Students who don’t 'light up' when exposed to it are seen as deficient. To be sure creative teachers do their best to subvert it and tailor it ( or these day ‘personalize’ it) to the needs of their students but curriculum as a central entity just goes rolling on, like Old Man River, but less alive.

Whatever happened to the idea of the curriculum intrinsically related to children’s lives? How can set of requirements planned centrally be relevant to the diverse students that populate our schools?

There must be a real connections with students to inspire learning; ‘Men must…learn to know and investigate the things themselves’ (John Amos Comenius 1630). The curriculum ought to ‘emerge’ from students intrinsic curiosity and their questions and this can only happen when teachers create their classrooms as 'communities of inquiry'.

The teachers’ challenge is to ensure student curiosity is not dulled. As Rousseau (1773) wrote, ‘Keep that curiosity alive...put questions to him…he should not learn but invent science.’

True ‘personalized’ learning must take into account the learners culture and environment and his or her personal concerns and interests. By exploring such things develop a child develops a positive sense of self as a learner. To achive this requires respectful mutual trusting relationships between the ‘teacher’ and the learners. Learning content must ‘be connected with their own personal observations and experience’. ( Pestalozzi 1895)

The idea of curriculum suggests a 'royal road' to learning of generalizations defined by those with the ‘expertise’ to insist other follow it. The truth is students can only discover such understandings for themselves – the must learn 'to see the woods by studying the trees'.

As John Dewey wrote (1897), ‘There is no succession of studies in the ideal school curriculum. If education is life, all life has, from the outset, a scientific aspect, and aspect of art and culture, and aspect of communication….The progress is not in the succession of studies, but in the development of new attitudes towards , and new interests in, experience’.Much of present education fails because it neglects this fundamental principle of the school as a form of community life.Education must be conceived as continuing reconstruction of experience; the process and the goal of education are one and the same thing’.

Curriculum then is both content and process. Broadly speaking it is everything that happens to a child at school. In a more focused way it is the utilizing of children’s’ concerns, both deep and transient, by the teachers to develop students who understand the natural world;technology; themselves; creative expression; all forms of communication; to gain proficiency in the skills of learning; to develop judgments; to develop one’s senses and sensitivity to feeling; to integrate learning and doing; and in the process to learn to experience life fully.

‘The only way to fit all this into school is to plan around children’s life concerns, feelings, interests ,fears, concerns questions and activities. The curious mind is not divorced from the questing spirit, the passionate heart or the vigorous body. It is nourished by and grows out of these'. (Dorothy Gross 1974).

There is no need to ‘cover’ all the subjects. Bring life into your classrooms, and take children out into the outside community. Select experiences according to the interests of both children and teachers (Bruner said, ‘teaching is the art of intellectual temptation’) and shape these experiences according to the age and abilities of the children.

In short such an ‘organic’ curriculum increasingly dealing with realtionships will be difficult in schools obsessed with literacy and numeracy and 'covering' teacher selected curriculum topics. Literacy and numeracy ought to evolve out of experience. The more powerful the experience and the ‘deeper’ the students look into it the more students will want to read, research,communicate and express their findings.

We need a curriculum that is based on students’ unique interests and points of view. This is impossible if at the same time teachers have to ‘prove’ that they have ‘cover’ what others expect of them. The proof of learning can be seen by how children relate to each other and by what they can do, demonstrate, or perform.

Such teachers need to be ‘artists’ able to pick up on what to extend, what to ignore, what challenges to introduce, and how far to go. This will take thoughtful observations of each child individual needs to decide what experiences are relevant.

This will be no easy task, even if it were to be ‘approved’. It would require a deep understanding by teachers of child development, learning theory and content knowledge. Such teacher will need the support of others to be able to ignore selectively imposed curriculums.

But if this were to be done then we might be able to talk about ‘personalized’ learning with some intellectual honesty– and we could throw the curriculum documents into the rubbish tin- or use them as guides only.

In the meantime the curriculum ‘just keeps rolling on, like Old Man River’ distorting true educational ideals.


Anonymous said...

Deer Bruise, On Beehalf of the cats hu work on the cariklulum We are knot happi wif yaw continud critisism of ow work. We are buro-cats not aristo-cats or tecno-cats. we jus do wot ow politckle leders tel us. Ow Maine purrpuss in lif is to helpp u all to teech ow cittns abot the ways of the teriblle pedo-doggy and how to kep themselfs safe Yaws ekcetra Skritchy

Bruce said...

That wuz a good comnt Skritchy. Actularly I relly lik the noo criculim yous cats hav dvelopt butt it culd evin bee beta.

Anonymous said...

I agree... a leap in the right direction but it could have been such a bigger, better leap. Trust the teachers - they want to inspire the learners. Life long learning is pretty hard to kindle if the material is BORING! Give teachers the freedom to follow the learners interests to a real depth - without constantly looking to see who is checking

Bruce said...

Reading the speeches of our Minister it would seem he is thinking in well in advance of his officials with his comments about 'personalized learning' - a phrase that is not even mentioned in the 'revised' draft.

See some of my earlier 'blogs' for his speeches.

Anonymous said...

In a way the wider curricuum has been narrowed by an emphasis on the almost 'magical' powers of literacy and numeracy. As one UK commentor has said, ' the evil twins of literacy and numeracy have gobbled up the rest of the curriculum'. This is a return to the old Victorian '3Rs' curriculum - hardly the 21stC!

What talents will be neglected due to this biased emphasis?

Anonymous said...

The clumsy curriculums just roll over teacher creativity.