Curriculum… A Guide vs. A Gavel

I want to thank Aaron over at Teacher in Development for the heads up on the Alger post. I will have to check it out, but since I am sans coffee at the moment, which was a strong suggestion on his part, I will hold off.
This is my second read of Aaron’s post regarding curriculum, and I also must say it is one of the only blogs I read regularly ie. almost daily. I read it this morning as my bloglines tipped me off about it, but it was right before a class, and I thought that it was pretty meaty anyway and warranted a second read…
“We’ve been discussing the use of blogs in the classroom and the difficulties and walls we seem to be bumping up against from the system we work within. I would like to venture a guess that what we’re running into is the curriculum.” ( Curriculum Headshift. Part II ) I agree with Aaron there, big time. I don’t think the curriculum is designed to interface well with social software, especially blogging. I don’t want to come across as being anti-curriculum. I see it as being a very effective and an enormous effort on the part of the Ministry of Education (in BC) for a set of guidelines and outcomes for each grade level. I agree that classes should be given expected outcomes that they should address and attempt to meet throughout the academic year. This provides an effective base from which future grades or classes can potentially build upon. The problem I have with curriculum is when it becomes the dictate, or the mantra of the course. I even feel angst over typing these words, as I am thinking semantically that there isn’t really that much wrong with curriculum as being a mantra, or a heartbeat of a course. Curriculum can effectively serve as the backbone of a course, and in doing so, it can strengthen the course as a whole, giving the teacher and students a common way point to chart their progress from. The problem I have with curriculum is when it becomes the ‘be all and end all’ of the course, or, as Aaron states, when it becomes warped and twisted into a tool of control:

In the hands of the wrong person, a curriculum becomes a one sided speech that students are forced to listen to and obey. It becomes ‘a one-way technology – a push technology – a system of mass communication.’ (Agler par. 5) One way. Push. […] Curriculum can cooly kill off passion and joy in the classroom as teachers are forced to follow the track and not deviate, and students are downgraded into passive receivers of information. ( Curriculum Headshift. Part II )

I guess delivery is a huge player in what Aaron is expressing here. If the teacher approaches the classroom with curriculum in hand, and delivers ‘steadfastly’ and without wavering from that course, then there is no room left for actual, meaningful interaction. The student is seen as an automaton, a mere receptacle of knowledge, instead of being seen as an organic entity that thinks, reasons, and interacts with his or her learning.
The curriculum has to have built into it a stopgap or fail-safe that allows for students to not only access knowledge, but to interact with it. This interaction, what Aaron so aptly calls “personal, social connectedness and exploration” ( Curriculum Headshift. Part II ), is the key to true and meaningful learning. As Aaron states, “we need to also make space inside the curriculum for the student and ourselves” ( Curriculum Headshift. Part II ). It is in the conversation and interaction with those things we come into contact with that we learn, not in the ‘stand and deliver’ style of teaching that demands students merely write what is dictated to them by some great ‘learning wizard’ who has come to bestow their learning on the hushed masses. We need more ‘Wizard of Oz’ moments in the classroom, where the veil is removed and the students see the Wizard for what he or she is…not some great, all-knowing entity, but a regular person. Teachers need to be willing to remove that ‘great curtain’ and ‘humanise’ themselves for their students; they need to remove the dictator from the classroom and start using the curriculum as a guide instead of a gavel.

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5 thoughts on “Curriculum… A Guide vs. A Gavel

  1. I work in special education in the United States. Currently, because of the No
    Child Left Behind Act, we have included all special ed kids in the classroom. Some teachers have issues with being asked to adapt lessons, but I think the principle is sound (that being that the special ed kids will be better educated if they hear what their peers are hearing.)

    In reference to that, I especially like the last part of your post, that which states that teachers need to humanize themselves for their students. The kids who are having the most success with inclusion are the ones whose teachers try creative ways to get the curriculum inside their students, not the ones who insist on the ways that work for most.

  2. Thanks for your comments, Becky.
    Ahhh…the issue of inclusion…a tough one. I agree with you that there is great benefit in the inclusive classroom. Sure, it presents teachers with the challenge of adapting and modifying curriculum and lessons, but I think this is beneficial as it helps teachers learn more as well. For so long we have been worrying about treating students equally, when the reality is that if we do that, we do them a great injustice. Students are not equal in their ability to learn and dialogue with their learning. We all learn at different rates of speed and in a variety of ways (I sound like I am parroting BC ministry of ed here…sorry.) to enforce equality in the classroom means that certain students will be left out of the game. I am all for equitable treatment, that is treating all students as humans who deserve respect and fair treatment, but treating students equally in the playing field of learning is not the best idea… as educators, we need to recognise when a student needs modification in their learning platform, and do so in order to help them meet with success.
    As a high school teacher who teaches classes with government final exams, the problem becomes that the government exam is not adapted. I cannot tell a student to answer only half the questions, or send them out with an Educational Assistant to help them read through and complete the exam. The inclusive classroom runs headlong into the mandated provincial exam. I have no problem with fostering an inclusive classroom environment, but the problem is when that course is a provincially examined course where a lot of your class time is spent prepping students for the exam.

    Having said that, I really appreciated what you had to say around the issue of creative teaching : “The kids who are having the most success with inclusion are the ones whose teachers try creative ways to get the curriculum inside their students, not the ones who insist on the ways that work for most.? Right on! I couldn’t agree with you more! Teachers who try to grasp at learning approaches to curriculum that are outside of the box of conventional teaching are similar to Jazz musicians in their riffing and improvisation with curriculum. The results can sometimes be chaotic, but they can also lead to a genuine and meaningful learning experience that is made unique. I think it is crucial that we dialogue with our learning; the more alternatives we can provide with students to undertake that dialogue, the more opportunities we provide for students to get passionate about their learning, and truly engage in their conversations.
    Thank you for your thoughts. I would be interested to hear more…

  3. James,
    Yes I have found you. I will admit this is my first experience with blogs.I will also admit that I only glanced and really didn’t read everything you wrote. I hate to spend more time staring at a screen than I have to. Who knows, maybe over time I will be sucked into the blog. I guess also I need to find something with a common interest. (ah, as important as teaching is 🙂 b

  4. Pingback: Palimpsest redux » Entropy in both meanings of the word… (if you don’t engage, then read on…it gets better)

  5. Pingback: Teacher in Development :: Exploring Personalized Learning :: December :: 2005

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