Harold Jarche (@hjarche) retweeted his prior post on “First, we kill the curriculum“, and generated some serious interest. For instance, Mark Oehlert (@moehlert) was inspired to write “Harold Jarche is Wicked Smart and We Need to Talk about Curriculum“. I know Harold, and he is wicked smart (see this skewering of homework), so I commented on his blog and it seems we may have a semantics difference as opposed to a fundamental one. Still, I want to make the point.
Harold, starting from the premise that the web is as fundamental a change as was the printing press, and, as the press could foster content, so the web can foster connections. The emergent nature of knowledge out of a network argues against a fixed curriculum and instead for contextualized knowledge. Arguing against a fixed curriculum, he says this:
a subject-based curriculum will always be based on the wrong subjects for some people. Without a subject-centric curriculum, teachers could choose the appropriate subject matter for their particular class
and this is, I think a valid point. There’s too much focus on rote, and already out-dated knowledge. Making my lad continue to demonstrate his ability to do the times tables ad nauseum only kills his love of learning. And the first year of middle school seems to be much more about turning them into manageable prisoners rather than learning much of anything. Things are moving so fast that it’s hard to imagine that much of what we learn, other than vocabulary, math rules, and science basics are necessary. Jim Levin argued 30 years ago that learning multiplication and long division was outdated in the age of the calculator and that estimation was the necessary skill to ensure you were in the right ball park. Why are we still teaching long division? In short, drill and kill is pretty dumb.
So, is there a curriclum? I think so, and Harold really says so too:
ensuing that students have mastered the important processes. Some of the processes that readily come to mind are critical thinking; analysing data; researching; communicating ideas; creating new things
Now, I think we’re arguing over whether skills are a curriculum, and I reckon they are, that is a focused set of learning outcomes we’re trying to achieve. Not content, but skills. I do believe there are some fundamentals, like levers, and gravity, and the associative property, but these are frameworks and models, tools upon which we build a flexible set of problem-solving, coupled with just the sort of skills Harold’s talking about (and I’ve talked about before).
The point is, the world’s changing, and yet we’re not equipping our kids with the necessary skills. We need a new pedagogy, problem-focused on things kids are interested in, as Harold suggests, and focusing on their information seeking and experimentation and evaluation and the self-learning skills, not on rote exercise of skills. I don’t do long-division anymore. Do you? Do you graph sentences? Do you remember formulas? I don’t think so. What you do is look up information, make job aids (why are stickies so ubiquitous?), or program in the formulas or use a tool.
Whether or not we call it a curriculum, those problem-solving skills what I want my kids learning, and it’s not happening. State standards are a joke. I don’t want them learning how to bold in Word, I want them understanding the concept of ‘styles’. I don’t want them learning how to color a square in Powerpoint, I want them to be effective in communicating visually. I want them to be learning how to solve ill-structured problems (cf another wicked smart person, David Jonassen)!
I don’t mind the revolutionary statement “kill the curriculum”, but I might just mean it as “kill the current curriculum”, because I do believe that the most effective path to help develop those skills is a formal learning process. However, it’s likely to be socially constructive in nature, not instructive. Let’s kill schooling, and reinvent schools as learning labs, with curricula focused on skills and attitudes, and perhaps a minimal core of knowledge. Which means our standardized tests need tossing, too, but then that should also be obvious. Portfolios and contextualized abilities, not rote knowledge tests. I reckon Harold and I (and Mark, another wicked smart person) are agreeing furiously. Anyone for a revolution?