On curriculum

I noticed today something that reinfornced my opinion of education curriculum. As you can see from my last post, there’s a production of My Fair Lady at the high school for the next three nights, plus an in-school presentation this morning. Our son came home from the session today and after an extended long weekend of practices he’s exhausted, but happy. He took a nap and is now preparing for this evening’s performance. He has a lot of lines plus many songs, dances and stage movements to memorize and perform.

There is an English assignment due for tomorrow that requires a re-write of an ending to a book. This is similar to the re-writes of several plays he has done and is something he can do and do well. However, he has almost no time to get it done. He will get something completed, but I’m sure it won’t be his best work or a great learning experience. Of course, he is presented with no options other than doing the prescribed task. There is no flexibility in the system for anything like prior learning assessment or objective based learning where achievement lets you move on to other things. This is the bully of curriculum.

As I was thinking about this in relation to my work I thought of the best way that I could describe curriculum to someone who had never heard of the term:

Curriculum: an outdated broadcast model for knowledge-sharing, based on the presumption of a shortage of information, limited social connections and finite knowledge boundaries.

14 Responses to “On curriculum”

  1. Guy W. Wallace

    Hi Harold!

    I very much agree that most Educational context’s Curricula are exactly as you state.

    As a lead designer (redesigner mostly) of 74 Enterprise/Corporate Curriculum Architectures (82-07) and participant on 30 or so more I’ve seen many many “collections of courses” with no “rhyme or reason” for their content or sequence, I’ve seen Curricula of a course or two of enabling K/Ss with no real-world context or applications practice, and I’ve seen huge multi-week courses (typically topic and not task-based) that feed the Learners with their fire hose and pray that the gods of cognitive load are away for the duration.

    I’ve also designed (going back to the early 1980s) many comprehensive curriculum architectures based on an analysis of performance requirements and enabling K/Ss, that utilized blended deployment means for both PUSH and PULL to increase learner and management flexibility, plus specific job-based planning (rational downselecting) and pre-tests/assessments to avoid training/learning that wasn’t relevant or unnecessary due to the learners’ prior knowledge/skills.

    In the late 1980s my former business partners worked with a school system is the Baltimore area to revamp their curriculum to a results focused using very different PUSH and PULL approaches, and the technology at the time. Crushed by “the teachers.”

    Joe Harless had been working locally in the Atlanta area to change the curriculum at Charter Schools – at the behest of a former Governor – until he was thrown out by the voters after the teachers went after him due to his reforms.

    Don Tosti talks often about his involvement with Head Start – and changing a school system in California way back in the 1960s.

    So there have been many valiant attempts to change “the system” – but “the system” keeps fighting those changes. Even when successful. Especially when successful.

    What bothers me is how every teacher needs to create a unique lesson plan for their grade – when that could be done once (and for a level and not a grade) and then shared. And then with technology – oh boy. That’s really got to be a threat to the establishment.

    Sadly, schools are too often daylight warehouses for children and young adults.

    Sorry this was long! But it struck a nerve.


  2. Harold Jarche

    Thanks for sharing your experience, Guy.

    I also received a comment from Steve Woodruff @swoodruff on Twitter, that is more critical than my definition: << "knowledge-sharing" may be too generous. How about "inflexible information imposition? >>

  3. Charles Jennings

    I like your succinct definition, Harold.

    An alternative might be…….

    A ‘curriculum’ is the lead weight that is tied to the legs of all those who aspire to knowing more about themselves, their world and life itself. Those who suffer the torture of the ‘curriculum’ have, invariably, previously been bound tightly with ‘courses’ and ‘programmes’. The combination of these three antiquated tools of torture sucks most aspiration, and often life itself, out of 99% of those to whom they are applied..

    Charles 🙂

  4. Karyn Romeis

    Oh well said, that man! Let me share an extreme example of the tyranny of which you speak.

    I know a woman who is the head of a primary school for special needs kids. She used to have the flexibility to adapt the curriculum based on the competencies of the child. So each child pretty much had a personalised learning plan. This has been changed. So kids who simply will not ever be able to understand the concept of numbers and values are forced to sit through X hours of numeracy every week, while the subjects they really need to focus, like life skills, or really enjoy (say art, for argument’s sake) are either severely restricted or absent altogether.

    We can be politically correct and say that we must give every child equal opportunity to achieve yadda yadda, but if a child has a physical anomaly, or a developmental ‘defect’ (for want of a less perjorative word), there are some things they simply can’t do. A blind child cannot see colours. A child in a wheelchair cannot pole vault.

    Why is it such a bad thing to take realistic stock of what such a child’s limitations are and develop a plan that allows them to achieve, rather than setting him up to fail?

    Just like your son, I used to have to fight with teachers who gave no quarter when homework hadn’t been done because I had gone straight from a netball match out onto the stage to play Beatrice (Much Ado). I simply told them I was focusing on the aspects of my education that were important to me. To them, extra-curricular = non-educational. Error! Error! Error!

  5. Harold Jarche

    I must say that for most part, in our experience, the teachers try to be flexible. The major constraint is the dogmatic system (curriculum) itself.

  6. Joe

    Are you talking about curriculum (what they are teaching) or are you really talking about lack of a variety of instructional activities to accomplish the curriculum as well as the lack of differentiated instruction to challenge your child.

  7. Harold Jarche

    Joe, I find that curriculum constrains both the teacher and the student. Getting through the curriculum dominates the daily activities at school and therefore limits the variety of instructional activities. I first blame the curriculum, which around here is set by the Minister of Education.

  8. Gilbert

    No matter what educational approach you come up with it will not function well in todays public school system. Systems are systems. They evolve with time. They often lose their ability to meet initial goals.

    If you want to understand what our school system has become just ask yourself where the resistance would come from if our prime minister announced that from now on schools would only run 6 months per year.

    Sure a few would be really worried about the educational aspects but the biggest resistance would come from schools staff losing salaries, parents needing babysitters . These are the people that would be marching the streets.

    This might sound like silly talk but until fully take into account what our school system has become we probably won’t be able to improve it.

    The CV is a good tool. It just won’t work within a system who main survival thrust is not educational.

    We don’t have to rely on schools and school teachers for education. You want to teach art..give the monies to the artist and let them educate outside of the schools…you want to teach music..let the musicians do it… Don’t give the monies to teachers that is the worst thing to do.

  9. Karyn Romeis

    @Gilbert In Cyrpus it is illegal to homeshool your kids. In Sweden, a bill is being considered that will have the same effect there. In the UK, homeschooling is being hemmed in increasingly by meaningless legislation.

    I am not a home educator, but it seems less and less likely that anyone will have the choice to pay professionals to teach their kids, as legislation steps in and disempowers parents in respect of the choices they make for their kids (or, indeed, themselves).

  10. Gilbert

    Homeschooling Illegal..that is interesting… just a natural consequence of a system being self-regulated by school teachers.

    That is the way macro-systems work. Internal drivers shape the systems and eventually the systems shape the environment. So eventually the school systems serve the teachers but other systems evolve to serve the students.

    It is time to move the important learning out of the school systems… and that is already happenning anyways… just wish the kids did not have to spend so much time in school …then they would have more time to learn the important stuff

  11. Harold Jarche

    My concern is not that children don’t learn much in school, but that they will lose their love of learning. That is the tragedy of the industrial system.

  12. Karyn Romeis

    @Harold This is my worry, too. By the time these people come into my sphere, many (most?) of them are so disenchanted with education that they think they hate learning. They don’t really – nobody does. But it makes my job so much harder if I first have to find ways to remind people that they really do love to learn before they will even try to learn anything about their jobs.


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