Week One: What is Curriculum?

  1. How does Kumashiro define common sense?

In Kumashiro’s article, The Problem of Common Sense, Kumashiro defines common sense as, “what everyone should know.” It is how people in society live. Common sense is what someone assumes is the “right thing” to do based on what is normal around them. In Kumashiro’s teaching experience in Nepal, he began to understand how common sense varied from place to place because of the differences he saw between his culture and the culture of Nepal when he was part of the Peace Corps. For example, Kumashiro shared an experience he had when he cooked meals. He enjoyed cooking “American” meals and often got made fun of for “not knowing how to cook,” since the people from Nepal never strayed from rice, lentils, and vegetables. He also learned that it is not “normal” to eat three meals a day, but instead to eat once in the morning, once in the evening, and to have tea midday. Common sense is what is considered the normal way to live in one’s own community. 

2. Why is it so important to pay attention to common sense?

It is important to pay close attention to common sense because it is not necessarily the “right thing,” even if it has been done that way for years. Actions and beliefs sometimes need to be questioned and altered appropriately. Not every situation deserves the same answer and every person learns differently. Therefore, teachers that spend time with children need to recognize that children are all at a different point in their lives and respond to things differently. In addition, with the many different cultures in our world, there is a vast variety of “common sense” adhering to one’s culture. When we blend and accept each other’s culture, we need to respect their “common” knowledge. If a teacher had an attitude that something is common sense and should not be questioned or should be obvious, it might prevent them from helping a student who is having trouble with it or keep the student from asking questions. Teachers need to remember that there are no stupid questions and that “common sense” is not always as obvious as it seems. On a side note, if something that is “common sense” no longer benefits the changing world, it needs to be reconsidered whether or not people should accept it. 

3. What type(s) of curriculum model did Kumashiro encounter in Nepal?

In Nepal, Kumashiro encountered formal education in the mode of ‘product’. Until last week’s ECS 210 lecture, I identified curriculum as a standard guide that dictates the learning that must take place in a timely manner. Now I understand that it can have more than one definition. The curriculum model “product” is a theory adhered to by Franklin Bobbitt and Ralph W. Tyler (Smith 2000). I understand Bobbitt and Tyler’s theory to represent a method of teaching which focuses on the official outcome and goals for the student’s learning. The end result aims to have the students equipped for life. It tries to shove information into students’ brains so that they can take an exam that determines one’s ‘smartness’; whether or not they understand the material and can apply it later in life is not particularly relevant. The students in Nepal were accustomed to the “lecture-practice-exam approach” (Kumashiro, 2009). They were worried that how Kumashiro was teaching them, they would not be properly prepared for their standardized exams. They did not want to waste time in the classroom on anything that was not in the textbook. It was all predetermined and did not encourage discussion or individual thought. Smith’s (2000) article explains that curriculum as a product attempts to prepare their students for the future. They want to give them everything they need to succeed. Although this is a nice notion, it may be lacking some beneficial qualities and overlook some important skills. 

4. What type(s) of curriculum model is the “commonsense” model in our Canadian school system? What might be the benefits and drawbacks to this model?

The method of implementation of the curriculum model in our Canadian school system varies from class to class, school to school, teacher to teacher, as well as urban environments to rural environments. Considering I am no longer in an elementary or high school, I can only comment on my own experience and I cannot speak about the current curriculum. Similarly to the education in Nepal, many classes in my Canadian school experience used the common sense model of “Product”. At the time, although I never enjoyed the curriculum, I accepted that it was simply the way school was and that there were no other alternatives. Smith (2000) shares that the Product model was to “prepare students for life”. Although this sounds ideal, what the curriculum has in mind to prepare students with does not suit everyone. There are now vast options for what one can do with their life. For example, a background in math and science is good for someone that wants to be an engineer but does not prepare a person for a career as a Mental Health Advocate or an artist. Another drawback to the Product model is that not every student learns the same way. The learning process and exams may not be inclusive of everyone’s learning style. For example, as a visual and kinesthetic learner, I found that throughout my school experience, I would have to go home every day and re-teach myself to further understand and find ways to relate to what had been taught at school. In my experience, a benefit to the Product model was the organization of the material and the set deadlines. I found it reassuring to know that I was on the right track to complete the required tasks on time. It also helped me finish projects that otherwise I would not be interested in learning about. Although I was not interested, I still learned how to accomplish work that I did not want to do as well as come across knowledge that I never would have learned otherwise. These extra assets are actually part of the Canadian school system’s “Hidden Curriculum”. 

The Hidden Curriculum, in my Canadian school experience, had a big impact on who I am as a person today, negatively and positively. Learning how to do things I did not want to do and excelling at them are some positives. A friend at school once inspired me to do everything I do with passion and pride, even if it is not enjoyable.  Smith (2000) shared a positive example of the Hidden Curriculum which I found extremely beneficial – bells. Having bells (or “alarms”) taught me effective time management. It helped me learn how to portion my day and to include “brain breaks”. However, that positive example can also be seen as a negative example. Sometimes, it would be nice to do what works best for one’s learning style and have longer (or shorter) class times. A negative impact that Hidden Curriculum had on me was the amount of competition in the classroom. We were constantly getting compared and graded. I felt too much pressure to achieve the top marks and developed low self-esteem, which decreased the quality of my work and my confidence in myself. Regardless, as a result of my education experience, I have ended up pursuing the life path as an ‘educator’ and I am looking forward to all that I will learn!

References

Kumashiro. (2009). Against Common Sense: Teaching and Learning Toward Social Justice, pp. XXIX – XLI

Smith, M. K. (1996, 2000) ‘Curriculum theory and practice’ the encyclopaedia of informal education, www.infed.org/biblio/b-curric.htm.

2 thoughts on “Week One: What is Curriculum?

  1. Hi Celina,

    This was a great and very detailed post! You’ve definitely covered all the bases.

    In regards to your answer for question #4, I liked your observations about the Product model and its pros and cons. I agree with you that while it does teach students how to work within rigid guidelines and learn to manage their time, it does lack when it comes to really engaging students with the schoolwork since all learning types are not taken into account. Furthermore, under the Product model, I think schools often struggle to show students the value of learning something they don’t deem “useful” outside of school, despite it being a requirement in the curriculum. I also agree that our schools, at least when I was there, placed a lot of emphasis on the Product model. How do you think schools can move away from over-reliance on this model, and in your opinion, which model(s) could schools start implementing that might create positive change in our schools and curriculum?

    Thanks,

    Riley

    • Thanks for the comment, Riley!

      Your ideas pushed me to further think about the Product model. I would agree with you completely – that sometimes when teachers educate, they often teach students what they need to learn – but miss helping them understand WHY something is relevant.

      Perhaps schools could move away from this model by explaining further why information is important. By not only dictating information but also providing hands-on examples and experiences, will help the children find value in school.

      At the moment, I do not believe there is one perfect model. I do, however, appreciate that with the Process Model, the teachers take into account the students’ interests. One concern I have with the Process Model is that students may not be interested in a few key topics and then not have the opportunity to learn some valuable skills. For example, if my learning as a child was self-directed, I would have avoided Math, even though it is extremely useful to know. But, at the same time, I think with careful guidance, students can incorporate all the subjects in topics that interest them and are relevant to them. To do this successfully for each student would be a lot of work and require a lot of support from the school system. I think it’s a great goal, but I wonder what the consequences are of a teacher trying to tackle all that and then not having the time, money, and support to pull it off, especially when there are such large class sizes and so few teachers and EAs.

      Thank you for your questions!

      Celina

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