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Month: July 2020

A Look at Curriculum Policy

In the article Curriculum Policy and the Politics of What Should Be Learned in Schools by Ben Levin, he outlines what it takes to create policies and then he connects them to curricular values. There are many factors that take place as to how curriculum comes to be including political climate, who is creating the curriculum, accessibility, region and what the public feels is important. There are two parts of curriculum that are under debate: what takes precedence in the curriculum and what topics should be taught under each subject (14). With each change that is considered to be added to or taken away from curriculum, the public scrutinizes it (regardless as to whether or not they have expertise on the topic) (13). Some school curriculums are put together by experts in each topic. The criticism towards a curriculum put together in this way is that it makes it inaccessible to anyone who is not an expert in the field (17). 

My brain works really well with metaphors. When I take foreign knowledge and relate it to something familiar, I feel as though I have a firmer grasp on the concept. The metaphor that came to mind while I was reading this article is that the curriculum is similar to one of the cooking shows where all of the ingredients are given to the chef and they need to create something from it.  Sometimes there are completely random ingredients or sometimes the ingredients are super-specific and there is very little creativity in what you can make out of it. I don’t know who chooses these ingredients either. Maybe it’s some show producer who knows nothing about cooking but assumes that a true chef can make these ingredients something wonderful. Or maybe it’s a team of seasoned cooks who know really well what dishes can be made from these ingredients. Nonetheless, there is also an element of how the chef interprets the ingredients which determine the final product. Not only that but there are judges watching the chef create this product. Often on these shows, there are seasoned judges who are experts in their trade and sometimes there are celebrity judges who have no experience with cooking at this level but have a palate and that’s all that is needed to qualify them. Nonetheless, the chef must also strive to make these judges happy. 

That is the best way for me to describe what I understood from this article. On paper, curriculum-making is messy and it shouldn’t necessarily work. It’s full of different elements, time crunches and expertise levels. On all levels, there are different amounts of consideration being put in. The ingredients of the curriculum are chosen by experts who have knowledge in relevant fields to teaching but there are also politicians and parents who are trying to choose the elements to the curriculum. Sometimes the curriculum is extremely specific and not really up to interpretation and other times it can be vague and left up to the chef what they do. There are pressures put on the chef just like there are pressures put on front-line educators to deliver in an attractive and timely manner. It is expected to suit each taster’s palate as well. How the teacher sees the curriculum also affects the final product. A good curriculum like a good meal should be able to adapt to each person. Even though I may really like citrus, that doesn’t mean that you like citrus. Finally, the people who experience the final product have differing tastes, worldviews, experiences and needs. There are many critics and each one has varying levels of understanding of what is happening in the curriculum. All of this information is on some level, new to me because although I have been interacting with the curriculum since pre-k, I have not been aware of it until recently. It both scares me and reassures me that we teeter on the edge of curriculum doing great things for society and also creating really big problems for the future. It both takes all of the ownership off of me to be perfect and yet, it requires me to put a lot of thought and energy into this profession. 

After reading the first article, I read the second one which is a few pages from Saskatchewan’s Treaty Ed Outcome and Indicators. This portion of curriculum must have been very controversial to do because there is so much debate regarding Indigenous History – in my opinion, it’s because of the deep-seated racism that surrounds settler-Canadians towards Indigenous Peoples. The other controversy is that having Indigenous history and worldviews be its own category, it infers that Treaty ed is separate to all of the other “important subjects” or that it on its own is other. Also, there are so many different Indigenous worldviews depending on history and tribe that I wonder how they decided what gets put in. I also think that it is susceptible to the teacher disregarding its importance. However, the people who created the curriculum were all experts on Indigenous affairs (some are Elders, some have studies from First Nations Universities, some are on tribal councils etc.). This means that the information has been taken with the same consideration as the other subjects which is really good and helpful as well.



What Being a ‘Good Student’ Means According to the Western Common Sense

I find that being a good student according to ‘the common sense’ is a student who can absorb whatever information that the teacher gives and replicate it. If they are able to go a little farther or deeper into the topic that the teacher is going to do, all the better but it must still be along the lines of what the teacher is planning to teach or what the teacher deems as right/appropriate. This means that certain types of learners and worldviews are privileged in school. Those who learn in an auditory and visual sense, for example, are apt to do better than kinesthetic or someone who is a combination. Students who can sit and listen for long periods of time are privileged over those who have a lot of energy and like to use their bodies to learn. Having a Eurocentric view of knowledge is often preferred in comparison to an alternative way of knowing. This is what was taught throughout history. That compliance and reproduction are valued and alternative thinking is not. In a book about the history of curriculum from 1886 by F.V.N.  Painter, titled: A History of Education, he clearly portrays some of the views long-held by educators that hold logical, hardworking, clear thinking males as the pinnacle of educational success. It outlines what is wrong about other races’ educational theories, calling some too strict, some nonexistent and some lazy. This places a Christian Eurocentric view as the top and it also places a working viewpoint as the healthiest and best way to live which contributes to our overworked society viewpoint. The “good” student is factory-made to work in the factories and it is somewhat outdated to the creative thinkers that society calls for now.

The Myth of Common Sense

Every culture has a set of norms that they ascribe to. They believe that this is the way it is or perhaps it is an ideal as to how things collectively should be. Kumashiro defines in his article The Problem of Common Sense as “something everyone should know”. In his article, he challenges this phenomenon also called a normative narrative and outlines why it could potentially be damaging. For example, he discusses why in the U.S. (although it is applicable to any other country) this idea of things needing to be done a certain way can easily lead to a superiority complex. While in an educational context he challenges the curriculum directly and how it can further this view, he also challenges what is not included in the curriculum because it implies an ideal as well.

When Kumashiro began teaching, he started in Nepal. He was there to innovate the schools and to critique their system. In his own teaching style, he attempted to bring a more modern approach; an approach that is focussed less on a testing model and more on experiential learning. to his surprise, there was pushback because the students felt disadvantaged that they were not being taught in the traditional way. They were concerned about not being prepared for testing in the future and that they could not predict the homework. This model presents the teacher as an explainer of the pre-approved knowledge mandated by the state.

Some additional points that I found striking from the Kumashiro article is that common sense does not challenge what society could be, it just says what it should be and that societal pressure is implicit. It implies that a ‘good’ and ‘efficient’ teacher sticks to a certain standard and teaches according to common sense. Making challenging the norms difficult. It also makes us feel comfortable because it is predictable which also makes challenging the norms difficult.

Overall, I find that curriculum seems to have an issue that can be found in the scientific community. Sometimes scientists over time forget that there is very little fact and most of what we know is only a theory for the moment. A new piece of information can come along and change everything. So it is with the curriculum. Everything is taught as concrete, unchangeable fact when if fact, the curriculum is a living organism that is subject to change over time. Knowledge changes and society changes but education has trouble reflecting this but what is there currently is taken as fact and not as a theory. Each new teacher also brings knowledge because they see the curriculum through their world view and their life experiences. All of this is prompted by the Smith2000 article, on page 7-8 when they discuss how education relates to the scientific community.

The Canadian curriculum traditionally has a teacher as the knowledge keeper model. It implies that the teacher knows everything and the student must keep up with the knowledge. The curriculum still favours mathematics, sciences and literature over “softer” subjects like music and art. While there is effort in changing the collective way of knowing and bringing anti-oppressive curriculum into the classroom, actions speak louder than words and much of the education’s action still imply a traditional way of teaching. It implies that knowledge and teaching process is measurable – which automatically creates a hierarchy of knowledge. It also favours certain languages over others (most schools are taught in French or English and students are expected to know and follow the language rules). This is good in the sense that it creates a baseline and it is reflective somewhat of the general views of the populace but it falls short in helping the populace to grow and reflecting the experiences and knowledge of the minority. It also allows for dangerous normative narratives o be perpetuated.