Systems

It’s funny how simple questions can sometimes lead to very complex answers.

When asked just over three weeks ago, what is curriculum? it seemed at first (to me) a simple question with a simple answer. Was I ever wrong.

I have been challenged on so many levels to come up with an answer to this question. And, I have struggled to piece together all the new ideas I was learning about with the beliefs and understanding I had in the beginning. When trying to make sense of it all, I realised that I was really thinking about two separate spheres. Two spheres that of course come together at some point…neither exist without the other.

There’s the system and there’s me.

The Paradox of Systemic Change

We keep hearing, and I think we realise, that we’re on the edge of change. We hear the language, 21st century learners, digital literacy, personalized learning…, but there isn’t a lot of clarity about what it all looks like, what does it mean, how will it work?  We can turn to our emerging provincial documents for some direction. Or can we?

The BC Ed Plan describes the challenges we face in a quickly changing world and offers a new plan to meet these demands. When reading through the document you find dialogue which reflects the language and theories that currently support the new vision of our 21st century learners. Ironically, much of the language and proposals for change are not new at all. We’ve actually seen it all before.

The underlying premise of this proposed change is to create a society which is competitive within the international market; reminiscent of the pressures faced in the early 50’s. The answer in both cases was to change the educational system. In the words shared in the BC Ed Plan,  “…to keep our young people achieving and thriving in a dynamic, rapidly evolving world” (BC Ed Plan, p.3).

As you read on, the document describes the approaches we must take to support our students.  You read about individualised plans, students being at the centre of their learning, and need for flexibility. John Dewey would be proud. In fact, if you read any current trade book on project based learning and inquiry his name is quick to come up.

While the foundation of the proposed changes are sound and relevant I can’t help but feel the plan works on assumption. Assumption that it can actually happen within the systems that we are currently so entrenched in.

We need to train new teachers, but we are training teachers within a system that is just as outdated as the one they propose to change.

It assumes that thousands of teacher will be willing or accepting of a major paradigm shift:  evoking the challenges of intensification as described by Michael Apple (172).

Furthermore, there is also the assumption that this shift in curriculum will take place without any concrete commitment to resourcing. Who will be responsible for outfitting schools with the necessary technology, for the significant training teachers will need, or for overhauling the provincial reporting systems? On a local level, I have seen numerous examples where proposed changes have not been sustained due to the lack of resourcing – little or no time, money or materials put in place. The government seems to be taking on the ideals of Bobbit – maximize output at minimal cost (Curriculum Studies Reader, p.5).

I don’t disagree that there is a need for change. But, I am cynical.  History repeats itself – as we have all learned in this class.

Where do I fit?

I feel like I have been a curriculum theory bandwagon jumper over the past few weeks. I

connected with the traditionalist. I believed in Eisner. I found myself in the thoughts and ideas of the reconceptualists.

And, that is okay because when I look back at my metaphor I can see them all in there.

I don’t think my metaphor has changed very much even though my thinking and understanding has. One of the biggest changes on the map is me. I think I need to redefine myself…less concrete, more asphalt. I’m far more flexible in my thinking. When asked in class what my enduring understanding is, I stated that I need to release myself. I have released myself from my original thinking that curriculum is document. I have released myself to understand that what I do in my class is not necessarily a means to teach to a curriculum, but it is my curriculum. And, it’s a curriculum that I’m very proud of. While it may be stuck in an obsolete system, it already embraces the ideals of 21st century learners… not because it’s the 21st century, but because I continually ask myself why. And, my why is my students.