History of Curriculum

Last week’s lecture was very “Edutaining.” We talked about how different education and curriculum are compared to 100 years ago. There used to be “normal schools,” that were, from the sounds of it, terrible for enforcing racism. The worst part, was that it was all considered completely “normal,” and it revealed that some of that stuff is still “normal” today. Though, today it may be disguised as entertaining movies about the “Nice White Lady” who is there to save every coloured person’s day! Needless to say, this lecture was actually kind of depressing, though very eye-opening. As much as we would like to think we’re moving away from racism and leaving it in the past, we’re not. There’s plenty of racism, and just like in the past, because it is considered normal, we don’t notice it as much. I’ve heard of the “Nice white lady” trope and why its wrong before, but I never made the connection between the past and now. I’m ashamed to discover that the “Nice white lady” trope has been around for a long time. I thought it was something new.

Another part of the lecture that really stuck out to me was the ordering of foreigners by how desirable they were. It went, “Anglo Saxon, Norwegian / Northern Europe, Slavs/ Ruthenians (Eastern Slavic) / Eastern Europe, Orientals, Africans / Indians.” Looking at this order, it is pretty apparent that those who were most different from them were put further down the list. It is such a childish concept that it really baffles me that an entire nation could have such a twisted vision of the people who lived in the world around them.

Considering all the racism we talked about in this class, my answer to the question, “What makes a good student?” is pretty depressing. If a student is white, they are automatically privileged and have more opportunities presented to them. So while they may not be a good learner or even a good student by any other standards, they have an advantage, therefore are subconsciously considered to be the better student. This should not be true and as educators we really have to fight what is disguised as commonsense to provide equal opportunities to all students. Every student can be a good student.

Teaching Learning as a Part of Learning

The second chapter, titled “Preparing Teachers for Crisis: A Sample Lesson,” addresses the fact that the way we perceive students’ learning may be incorrect. Kumashiro tells us of a student he had in preschool, and how he did not demonstrate learning in the traditionally accepted ways, but instead learned in his own way during unstructured periods. If the students were expected to colour, he would have a rough time. If they were not expected to colour, he would be colouring all the time and be giving it to the teacher later just to show off his work. When a student is supposedly giving us a hard time and learning in nontraditional ways, that student may be perceived as a bad learner, or even a bad kid. This happens far too often, which is very unfortunate because the teacher’s disposition towards his or her student can deeply affect the student’s self esteem and confidence in their own learning.

Another point made was that we cannot teach our students a “more correct way of thinking of the world,” because there is no one right way. There are as many ways as there are people in this world, and the education system tends to entirely forget that. Sometimes, it is intentionally forgotten. Having to acknowledge everyone’s cultural baggage and make room for it in one tiny classroom that hardly has enough room for the students alone can be a daunting task. That is why Kumashiro suggests that we incorporate the desire for learning, and even the resistances to learning as a part of what the students are learning. Push them to ask themselves, “Why am I struggling with learning this?” Let the students know that they can question the knowledge around them, and question from what background the knowledge is valued. That is to say, teach them to become critical thinkers of themselves and the world around them. Schools only push kids to learn certain things which discourages individual learning and exploration. We teach kids that graduating is the most important thing, and then we test them for their graduation only on what is traditionally taught by a euro-centric system, which for the most part, students don’t even know why they are learning what they are learning to begin with. We are essentially telling our students that our knowledge (what they are supposed to be learning in class from the teachers and textbooks, a euro-centric view) is the only knowledge that matters, because it is the only thing that will get you to graduate. How sad. This system that we have in place is undoubtedly killing the desire in children to learn, and it is oppressing many of our students.

Food for thought.

The Tyler Rationale

Tyler’s Rationale is as follows:

1. What educational purposes should the school seek to attain?

2. What educational experiences can be provided that are likely to attain these purposes?

3. How can educational experiences be effectively organized?

4. How can we determine whether these  purposes are being attained? (Tyler, 1949, p.1).

The first thing that comes to my head when I read this is the recent change to the math curriculum, where they split up “Workplace and Apprenticeship” math from “Foundations of Mathematics.” The Workplace and Apprenticeship textbook focuses on math that would be used in the trades. This is the curriculum deciding on a purpose that it wants to attain. It wants to prepare students who are seeking to join the trades after high school to be better prepared with the proper mathematics pertaining to their career, by providing them with a textbook that focuses on exactly that. The separation is how it is organized, and testing is most likely how to check if these purposes have been attained. If students meet the appropriate outcomes, we will know that it succeeded.

The greatest limitation of the Tyler Rationale is that it does not acknowledge individuality. Sure, a school may seek to attain to one purpose, but how do we incorporate teachers and students into that message? This rationale is very straightforward, like a factory production line powered by its own efficiency. It does not take into consideration the beauty of what makes us human, and instead focuses on pumping the most productive members of society that most likely subscribe to what the economy currently needs. Now, this is not necessarily only a bad thing. We do need certain people to fulfill certain jobs. This does not have to mean that we cut out creativity, which Tyler’s Rationale seems to do.

The greatest benefit of this rationale is its efficiency. It sets a goal, asks educators how to obtain that goal, and ensures that these steps are taken so that the goal is achieved. Very simple, and proven to work. It is just sad that it can drain creativity and flexibility from our school systems.

Common Sense? Not So Common.

Who knew that assuming something to be “common sense” could end up oppressing a group of students in a school, or in a classroom. Common sense is seen as something one should just simply have, or know. To those who know or have it, common sense seems incredibly simple, like, “Shoes go on your feet.” Depending on your background, or even your field of discipline, something that might be common sense to one group of people, may not be common sense to another. There are Indigenous cultures around the world who do not wear shoes. They may have something on their feet, but nothing like what North America may call “shoes.” If they were presented with a typical sneaker, do you think they would know what to do with it if they had never really seen a shoe before? Probably not.

For example, something that I’ve recently learned is that in some First Nations cultures it is impolite to look someone in the eyes while they are talking, or telling a story. In the dominant culture that is implemented in our school system, it is considered impolite to not look someone in the eyes while you are speaking or listening to them. Now imagine how many First Nation students have been given the lecture by their teacher, “Look at me when I am talking to you, and look at me when you speak.” Imagine how poor these students felt when they were only doing what was taught to them as something polite when speaking or being spoken to. Yet, being a white female in Canada, I would have assumed eye contact while speaking to be common sense.

What is common sense? It is not a wide-spread belief or piece of knowledge that you obtain just by existing. It is a cultural construct; a piece of knowledge that to your culture, is a common, widespread understanding. As a teacher, it will be important to remember that not all of your students will be coming from the same background. Therefore, not every student will have the same “common knowledge” as you.

Kumashiro’s, “The Problem of Common Sense,” is a good read, and may broaden some horizons. Check it out if you have the time!