Then one day I had an epiphany, it isn’t about what students are learning, it is about how students are learning. Kieran Egan in ‘What is curriculum?’ explores this very shift from a historical standpoint in which he outlines a change in the definition of curriculum over time from what is to be learned and in what time frame, to how curriculum should be learned. The truth is, a student may in fact never use much of what they learn in their adult life, but it is the skill set that they obtain through learning the material that they will carry with them for life. So now when a student asks me “When will I ever use this in real life?” my answer is honest “You are right, you may never have to know this specific fact in ‘real life’, but you will use the skills you are obtaining through the process of learning, which include but are not limited to: problem solving, perseverance, time management, stress management, social skills, leadership skills and reliability.” No student has ever argued this answer, they are in total agreement, and they finally understand why they are learning what they’re learning. While I am happy that I can finally satisfy the students’ questions, I become concerned with the fact that the students did not already know this. This is where I’d argue curriculum is failing our students.
Cochran-Lytle and Smith say that the education system hasn’t changed in over a century, and that it is high time the emphasis on fact memorization be removed. While I have been telling my students that their education relies on the skills they learn through education experiences, the curriculum has not truly reflected this. This is where I feel the curriculum needs to shift towards including more dialog on how students learn. Egan says the definition of curriculum has had too much emphasis on what in the past, and that although there has been a shift towards how it is more important that we find a balance between the two. The new BC Curriculum mandate is certainly a step in this direction, in which the numerous Achievement Indicators have been reduced to overarching themes called ‘Big Ideas’ which are broken down into specifics as ‘Content’. This reduction in what the curriculum is to cover was much needed, but it is the addition of the ‘Curriculum Competencies’ that is the most exciting part of the new curriculum. It outlines how students will be learning and demonstrating their learning, while still allowing for the freedom of the teacher to interpret.
The new curriculum also includes the addition of indigenous knowledge. As a white woman with no indigenous heritage, I worry about both what to teach and how to teach indigenous content. My instinct is to lean towards a ‘move to innocence’, a concern that Tuck and Yang say is a step in the wrong direction for the decolonization of indigenous peoples. While I am in unfamiliar territory on how to address the indigenous curriculum, I think that this addresses a third feature of curriculum, and that is who the curriculum is for.
So after all this reflection, what is curriculum? Curriculum is ever changing; curriculum needs to be debated on, questioned, and changed to reflect the needs of society. Curriculum is both what and how students learn, and it is also who the learning is for. So what is your curriculum?
Tuck, E., & Yang, K.W. (2012). Decolonization is not a metaphor. Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society, 1(1).