Hey Curriculum, I’m just not that Into You

2017-07-27T10:30:58+00:00 Categories: Intentions, Teaching & Learning|Tags: , , , , |0 Comments

Do you care about education?

I’d be surprised if you said no.

As a homeschooler, I’ve realized that everybody has an interest in education—it’s not just me! And, when others realize we homeschool, it inevitably turns into a deeper discussion about education with a great deal of passion behind the conversation. We’re all interested in education and many of us are concerned.

I think, it’s because we see ourselves as drivers behind the wheel of education and it’s taking us towards an unpredictable future. The drive is both frightening in its uncertainty and exhilarating in its possibilities. At once, we feel the burden of keeping this car running while hoping any trouble that crops up is manageable. With our children in the back seat, the stakes are high. We need to get it right and fear messing it all up for our kids.

Because of my own deep interest in education, I tend to think a lot about the things we do to get it right. Take curriculum for example, in the sense of content rather than the broader sense of method. In an effort to get it right, we select and prioritize certain subjects for learning (e.g., math and science, rather than fishing and shoe design). Further, our support of standardized achievement and the amount of money we contribute to the curriculum industry, indicates just how much content matters to us.

The “Why?” of Content

While it’s easy to see that content is important, it’s more difficult to see that curriculum is secondary to and in service of philosophies about learning and knowing. For example, take traditional education and unschooling (an approach used by some homeschoolers).

Traditional education emphasizes efficient (fast) transfer of knowledge to large populations, in which:

  • Content (e.g., curriculum) is pre-established/predefined and meant for large populations
  • Curriculum and a directed focus (e.g., teaching) are efficient tools for knowledge transfer
  • Knowing is a function of learning and knowledge is formally evaluated (e.g., tests)

Unschooling emphasizes developing knowledge (and personal) autonomy, in which:

  • Content (e.g., experience) is self-determined, developing as experiences develop
  • Self-directed experiences and facilitation (via parents) advance knowledge autonomy
  • Learning and knowing are rarely established through formal methods, but are observable

Though the content—curriculum or self-directed experience—differs, it serves the underlying philosophy for each approach.

However, in discussions about education, curriculum is emphasized. If your family homeschools, “What curriculum are you using?” is a common question from homeschoolers and non-homeschoolers alike. And, many homeschoolers recommend choosing curriculum as an important first step. In part, I think, because curriculum is what’s most obvious in traditional education. Also, I think we tend to believe we’re on the same page, philosophically, when it comes to education—or at least, we expect that we’re close. Yet, there’s too much controversy surrounding education to support the idea that we’re all philosophically aligned. Nevertheless, curriculum seems like a great place to start.

Except that it isn’t, not really.

Nope. It’s best if Content Serves

Setting aside philosophy for a moment, let’s focus on learner needs. While it’s true that experience is a great teacher and that books are a wonderful support for learning—personally, I love learning through reading—content is not the only path to learning. Sometimes, living life while an idea percolates is better for learning. Other times, unplanned conversation is key to learning. Likewise, learners needs constantly evolve. So, that bundle of textbooks and prepackage curriculum that served learners at the beginning of the year, might become a huge source of frustration when it can’t keep up with their changing needs as time goes on. When viewed through a lens of learner needs, it’s much easier to see that content is best when it serves—rather than dictates to—learners and learning.

Start with Your Needs, Values, and Beliefs

Thinking back to when we first began homeschooling, I remember a little voice inside my head kept warning me, “It’s too soon for curriculum” we have to figure out some things first, like: How does Duncan make sense of information? How does he find meaning through experience? What are our goals for learning? And, when that question, “What curriculum are you using?” was posed to us (again and again) and it really bothered me. We weren’t using one. Not because we didn’t have our act together, but because it didn’t feel right to select anything before having a grip on our needs, values, or beliefs. Plus, we had other stakeholders—our state (Washington), local school district, and FLO (the organization we chose to evaluate our yearly progress against state requirements)—with their own set of needs. Before entertaining curriculum choices, we had to blend our needs with theirs.

To get back to the car metaphor, putting content first was like getting behind the wheel without any idea about where we were going. However, once we a handle on our needs, values, and beliefs, the drive towards the future became enjoyable. Our values, needs, and beliefs helped us orient ourselves and diminished our worries that we might be messing it all up for our son.

In the Comments Below…

Please share your thoughts, ideas, and experiences about with your “drive” towards your child’s/children’s future, the role of curriculum, and how your values help you set the direction your moving towards.

Thanks so much for reading, commenting, and sharing!

Wishing you many good things,

– Liz