Critical Education Articles Placed in the Teacher Staff Lounge While I Was a Teacher, Part Seven: Critique of the School Curriculum

This is a continuation of earlier posts.

When I was a French teacher at Ashern Central School, in Ashern, Manitoba, Canada, I started to place critiques, mainly (although not entirely) of the current school system. At first, I merely printed off the articles, but then I started to provide a summary of the article along with the article. I placed the summaries along with the articles in a binder (and, eventually, binders), and I placed the binder in the staff lounge.

As chair of the Equity and Justice Committee for Lakeshore Teachers’ Association of the Manitoba Teachers’ Society (MTS), I also sent the articles and summary to the Ning of the MTS (a ning is “an online platform for people and organizations to create custom social networks”).

As I pointed out in a previous post, it is necessary for the radical left to use every opportunity to question the legitimacy of existing institutions.

The context of summaries related to the brain was that the principal of Ashern Central School, where I worked, started talking about “brain research’ and how teachers needed to implement such research in their daily teaching practice. He even placed an article on brain research in our school mailboxes. As a consequence, I researched the issue and provided critical summaries that critiqued his reductionist view of human intelligence as “brain work.”

Good morning, everyone,

I sent the attached article to the ESJ Ning yesterday. I prefaced it with the following:

After attending the ESJ workshop, it is evident that many consider the school system is equivalent to education and that education is equivalent to schooling. John Dewey, throughout his long life, criticized such a view since most schools become formal organizations isolated from life and organized in such a way as to prevent children from becoming educated.

The author of the following article, “John Dewey’s The Child and the Curriculum,” (D.C. Phillips) provides a summary of Dewey’s 1902 work The Child and Curriculum. Dewey opposed throughout his long career many dualisms, such as mind/body, thought/action, the individual and the social—and the child and the curriculum.

Typically, schooling has focused on the curriculum at the expense of children (subject matter organized logically in the form of the disciplines and attendant skills of reading, writing and arithmetic) but has, at times, focused on children at the expense of the curriculum.

Dewey argued that children’s experience is merely the beginning of education and the curriculum is the end of the education. The child experiences the world in a certain way and the logical curriculum in the form of the disciplines is the culmination of that experience when it is organized to maximize control of that experience. Formal education is to be designed in such a way that childhood experiences become increasingly differentiated until they assume the form of the disciplines. Formal education must provide a mediating process by which childhood experience can be both differentiated into the disciplines and integrated, with each logical form (the disciplines) reinforcing the other logical forms so that the child can engage in the world in as artistic manner as possible (since art integrates the diverse into a coherent whole, with each aspect modified by the other distinct aspect but at the same time supported by the other aspects).

The curriculum developed in the twentieth century and still prevailing in the twenty-first century in most schools has not solved the problem pointed out by Dewey. Given this curriculum, the child’s interests and the objective nature of the content of the disciplines often clash. It has, alternately, emphasized the child (whole language, to a certain extent) and the content of the curriculum. Nowadays, of course, the content of the curriculum is emphasized at the expense of the child. Dualism prevails in schools.

Rather than seeing the curriculum as defined by the disciplines as the end point that requires a mediating structure that transforms childhood interests into more logical forms (forms designed to increase our control over our lives), and the end point thus serving as a basis for interpreting and guiding childhood behaviour, the modern curriculum defines childhood experience as merely a simplified form of the logical form of the disciplines. Such a view has no theoretical basis.

One aspect that was not mentioned in the article was the eventual departmental structure of the Dewey School (the University Laboratory School), with teachers being specialists so that they could interpret adequately the potentialities of childhood behaviour. Initially, a generalist teacher was hired, but it was found impossible for a generalist to provide the precision necessary for learning to occur.
Integration of the specialized departments and teaching occurred, in terms of the curriculum, through the mediating structure of the use of social occupations linked to the basic needs stemming from the human life process: food, clothing and shelter. These needs and the activities required to satisfy them have been subject to evolution as social life has become more complicated. The disciplines emerged from the pursuit of such basic needs (chemistry in the case of cooking and wool dyeing) and mechanics (and physics) in the case of the shelter. Pedagogically, integration occurred through weekly meetings of teachers. Experientially, the children did not experience “studies,” but rather the studies were functions of the life process—means to the end of that process and not ends in themselves. Socially, the school was a community.

Childhood experience requires many transformations before it can be organized into a logical form. Furthermore, for most people, learning is a means towards the end of life and not an end in itself; human beings are not academics (how many reading this dedicate themselves to inquiry for inquiry’s sake?). Although children and adolescents should learn to appreciate the pursuit of knowledge as an end in itself (making inquiry into inquiry an end in itself so that the consequences of inquiry must conform to the conditions for further inquiry), most will not engage in the active pursuit of inquiry for inquiry’s sake in their own vocation; being an academic or scientist is not the calling of most people. To assume otherwise is both unrealistic and authoritarian.

The analogy of the relationship between a journey and a map illustrates Dewey’s concerns. A journey forms the presupposition for the creation of a map; it constitutes the psychological aspect of map making. The actual temporal process of the journey may lead to unexpected and unwanted experiences.

But a map, once it is created, enriches the journey by providing a summary and a form which can guide future activities and make the journey more efficient; it constitutes the sociological aspect of map making. The map is intermediary between the original experience and the enriched experience.

The making of the map must, at some point, become the end in order for an enriched experience is to emerge. However, a map is still intermediary between the original journey and the enriched journey. It is not an end in itself except temporarily; when viewed from the totality of experience, it is intermediary. Learning is, likewise, intermediary and not an end in itself when the totality of experience is considered.

The child and the curriculum are thus not opposed. The curriculum must be organized to enable the child to organize her/his own experience into an increasingly organized, controlled and meaningful manner.

The author also points out a weakness in Dewey’s theory: some dualisms cannot be resolved but rather one side must win out against the other side. Dewey recognized this situation in the case of the natural sciences but in the case of the social sciences he often failed to recognize the irreconcilable nature of social conflicts between classes, for instance, where one class controls, oppresses and exploits another class. The Deweyan curriculum must, therefore, be modified to incorporate the dualism of social relations.

How can equity and social justice be achieved when the dualism characteristic of the modern curriculum prevails (with the content of the curriculum being opposed to children’s own experiences)? Can living beings be treated as central when the environment constitutes necessarily part of the life process? Can the environment be considered central when an environment is an environment only in relation to living beings? Can equity and social justice be achieved when the life process is simply set aside or considered from only one side of the relation?

How can equity and social justice be achieved when human beings lack so much control over their own environments in school and at work? Is not real education to increase control over the environment? How are teachers real teachers if what they do leads to a lack of control by students over their own environments? Given the modern economic structure, how can students gain control over their own environments?

When teachers begin to face these issues (rather than avoiding them through silence), then perhaps inquiry can begin and education can be released from its shackles. Until that time, students will be shackled to the chains of the modern curriculum—despite the pedagogical efforts of teachers and the illusions that such pedagogical efforts engender by being restricted to that level.

Fred

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