Let’s start here: Curriculum is just a guess.
And to paraphrase the late, great Seymour Papert, now that we have access to just about everything there is to know, what one-billionth of one percent are we going to choose to teach in school?
If we’re honest, we’ll admit that most of what’s in our program of study is there because it’s always been there. Shakespeare, the Roman Empire, calculus, geology…we don’t include those things because they have the most direct relevance to the lives our students are leading today. Hence the age-old student lament “Why are we learning this?”
And, if we’re making honesty a habit, we’ll also admit that our infatuation with parceling out all of these tidbits of knowledge into discrete curricular subjects also doesn’t map to the way we learn in our real lives. I mean, who do you know that moves from one topic to some drastically different other every 55 minutes?
The reality is the moment we’re in is seriously pushing against the what and why of curriculum in schools. I know, colleges require it, and parents expect it. But that doesn’t absolve of us the need (and duty) to interrogate just how well the current offering is actually preparing kids for a world that in large measure colleges and parents don’t fully understand.
No question, it’s hard for those working with younger kids and teens to understand it as well. But if nothing else, the world has been giving us some signals, especially the last year or so. And it’s suggesting to us a whole new curriculum and approach to pedagogy that is focused on making sure that kids can not just survive the future but thrive in it.
So, what are some obvious examples of the #newcurriculum, which is a hashtag I’ve come to start using on Twitter whenever I find resources that suggest a deviation in our approach?
- Algorithmic Literacy — So much of how we experience the world is now mediated by technology and driven by algorithms. The explosion of AI, VR, AR, and other initials require each of us to have a deep understanding of how what we read and hear, and experience is driven by code and a skillset to combat the ill effects of that.
- Racial and Social Justice — The furor of last summer may have died down a bit, but it is not going away. Nor should it. And the deeply colonial roots of our current curriculum is doing nothing to advance the conversations we need to be having and the questions we need to be asking around race and equity.
- Power — There are huge shifts in power that are happening in the world today, politically, economically, and socially. These shifts are rarely interrogated in schools, but if we want to help students develop into adults who can create a more equitable future for all, we need to examine them and equip them to use their growing power well.
- Climate — Many are suggesting that the pandemic was just a light jab compared to the looming uppercut that climate change is about to hit us with. Part of the work is to solve the problems that are causing the crisis. But another part is helping students develop the social and emotional coping skills necessary to deal with what’s to come.
That’s a start. And these are not units or specific courses. They are all of a piece, and we must rethink our pedagogy in ways that allow us to treat them more holistically. That means a more inquiry, problem-based approach that is centered on self-determination and direction rather than on a daily lesson plan that metes out content by a calendar and a test date. It means considering a full embrace of the Sustainable Development Goals from the United Nations as a starting point for reframing what and how we teach.
We don’t have to guess any longer what topics and skills kids need to learn in school. They’re staring us in the face. And they are urgent. Now the question is do we have the courage to build a more relevant, just, and equitable #newcurriculum with our students.