Before September school bells rang, many educators were engaged in a complex and productive dialogue about THE WHAT/THE PURPOSE of public education. That narrative continues; it revolves around curriculum revisions that go far beyond updating learning outcomes and changing resource materials. It is about the commitment to deep transformational learning rather than tired efforts to sustain the status quo by cycling through minor tweaks and calling them significant/game changers.
Why is this so crucial? There is a “real-time” global context in today’s classrooms, courtesy of social media, 24/7 news cycles, increased social conscience, and competing pressures and priorities. That should compel us to design learning pathways that maximize engagement by addressing those complexities. We live in an “Ethical Dilemmas Are Us” society, so currency and relevance are essential. Simply put, it’s not a black and white world, so we can’t have a black and white curriculum with the answer key at the end of the chapter.
Today’s learner acquires and demonstrates knowledge, skills and attitudes in very different ways than when the schoolhouse foundations were laid more than a century ago. The 19th and 20th century framework was built to accommodate yesterday’s certainties, social norms, communication capacities and beliefs about learning. Compliance and memorization were highly valued. But yesteryear doesn’t equip young people to deal with tomorrow, and a simple binary construct of right and wrong answers laid out in old school print resources doesn’t cut it. Real learning doesn’t link to worksheets, quizzes & tests and rewarding out-of-context retrieval of facts is so “Pre-Google…”
A key condition for transformation to take hold is our acceptance that we (the system) can no longer “sanitize” the school experience to keep John and Jane insulated from controversial, values-laden, politically or culturally sensitive issues. If they don’t grapple with those matters at school, in a scaffolded, skillfully supported environment, where and when will they confront what really matters.
While our approach to a curriculum/learning framework is transformational, it’s not all new. The difference today is that skilled teachers are encouraged to keep doing what they have always done, but now with system support. They need that as they build from the what of the core competencies to the how those skills are applied in ways that are light years beyond answering the questions at the end of the chapter. The problems or challenges students engage with are far more real and important than the old standbys. Remember this one?:
A train traveling on the track from Toronto to Vancouver departs at the same time as a train heading from Vancouver to Toronto. At what point will the trains pass each other, moving at an average speed of 95 km/hr?
Challenging problem? Maybe. Interesting/engaging? Not so much. There better more relevant and topical ways to demonstrate core skills.
Today’s newscrawl can lead to tomorrow’s lesson and followup problem-based activity. It’s not a stretch to see how we can teach and reinforce all of the CORE areas through artful navigation of real-world themes like these:
Of course, bringing real world issues into the classroom requires sensitivity and skill. It’s not without risk, but inertia is an even greater risk if we want to change the perspective shared by students quoted in John Abbott’s Battling for the Soul of Education. In Abbott’s call to action, he cites a forum where students commented to their teachers:
“You treat education like a TV dinner. You tell us to go to the freezer, pull out a box, read the instructions carefully, take off the wrapping, puncture the cellophane, then set the microwave for the right time. If we’ve followed the instructions carefully, we’ll get full marks.” Full marks for honest perspective, anyway!
We know better. We have to do better. That’s at the core of transformation. Quite a journey.