On curriculum

Gilbert asked how I defined curriculum in my last post. There are many definitions, but I specifically meant curriculum as the pre-determined set of subjects, objectives, tests and lessons that constitute public education. Of particular note is that the students have no input or choice in the curriculum. I am not referring to university curriculum, where students have choice, or training, which is set by employers or other authorities.

First, do we need curriculum? Our official objective in NewBrunswick is:

To have each student develop the attributes needed to be a lifelong learner, to achieve personal fulfillment and to contribute to a productive, just and democratic society.

Predefined curriculum is not a necessary ingredient to fulfill this mission, and that is my prime concern. Someone far removed from the learner, and even the teacher, decides what is best for everyone. For example, someone decides that children study about the Great War but not the Suffragette Movement.

My issue is first that the public school curriculum, as it is implemented, is based on subjects and not processes (e.g. critical thinking; research methods; logic; etc). Secondly, I know from experience that the NB Department of Education does not have a process by which its subject-based curriculum is developed. Basically, a number of “experts” are put in a room for a week and when it’s over they have developed a curriculum. It is a rather black art. There are no first principles on which a subject’s curriculum is based so one cannot go back and determine if the subject is still relevant, if it ever was.

Curriculum, as currently practised, constrains learners, as there is no room for exploration because the teachers must cover what’s on the curriculum. This is the flaw in being subject-based. If education were process-based, then teachers could facilitate learning using a variety of subject areas. Why should I learn about history when I am more interested in art? Can’t I learn critical thinking in either discipline? Such an approach would mean giving up control, and that of course is the real issue. Once again from Brian Alger:

Challenging the validity of curriculum in any form means to challenge people’s jobs whether they are political officials, school administrators, consultants, teachers, students or parents. Part of the immense control and authority that curriculum has is that it provides careers and therefore sources of income. This, in my own experience, is where I have found the most significant roadblock to change and innovation.

So how can students become “lifelong learners” when they are told what to do, when to do it (in 50 minute increments), and what is important by an authority figure? Luckily, many children learn in spite of schooling.

Are there other options? Here’s just one – The Best Learning Experience Ever.

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One Response to “On curriculum”

  1. Gilbert

    The curriculum certainly is a problem. I do not think that it is a root cause. There still a place for curriculum in the approaches I favor.
    Certainly would like to see the curriculum thinned and less hours devoted to it. IMHO, eliminating the curriculum would give the constructivist and illiterates
    too many opportunities to screw up. Would lead to more problems than we currently have.

    I think it is the teacher based schooling system that is broken. It is so incestuous that
    there is almost no chance of improving it. Diversity is required within any ecosystem.

    Subject vs Process.

    The machine that cannot do subject-based would not be able to do process-based.
    New Brunswick doesn’t have the ressources to embark on process-based approaches.
    There is both a litteracy problem, a lack of passion and an absence of “didactique”,excuse the french, in regards to those approaches.

    But why would we want to depend on schools for learning. There are so many other alternatives.
    And learning is too important to put in the hands of politically motivated governments.



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