Clark Quinn's Learnings about Learning
(The Official Quinnovation blog)

27 August 2009

Kill the curriculum?

Clark @ 1:38 PM

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  Jim Levin argued 30 years ago that learning multiplication and long division was outdated in the age of the calculator and that estimation was the necessary skill to ensure you were in the right ball park.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?


  1. […] must manage all these perspectives, including Koreen Olbrish’s and Mark Oehlert’s and Clark Quinn’s perspectives on this same issue. There are some tweets on this topic, and you can throw […]

    Pingback by Curriculum is Not the (Whole) Problem | Aaron Silvers — 28 August 2009 @ 7:59 AM

  2. […] Kill the curriculum?, August 27, 2009 […]

    Pingback by August Informal Learning Hot List — Informal Learning Blog — 28 August 2009 @ 10:52 AM

  3. The revolution has been due for a while but honestly, I don’t know how many people out there think like us.

    “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.”

    Exactly! Metacognitive learning is the most effective way of learning and I don’t see why our schools aren’t actively incorporating this type of learning into the curriculum.

    Comment by Effective learner — 28 August 2009 @ 9:44 PM

  4. Hmm… While I agree with the fact that change is warranted, I wonder if there are motivations both in government and at the execution level that run counter to progression.

    *Cynical overtone – with a strong dose of sarcasm*

    #1 – There is no advantage to manufacturing less followers – One could imply that the best interests of the public are not the best interests of a government that wants an easy job governing the masses. If more people are leaders, who will follow? If everyone is worthy of a salary at the middle or upper end of the payscale, there will no longer be a payscale. Think traditionally, those who excel do so to the disadvantage of others. Those at this end of the scale are the decision makers, they are the primary force of influence in the equation. And these folks have nothing to gain by instantiating change that may threaten their position. While this is ‘out there’, there is palpable truth to this implication.

    #2 – ‘I was made by the system, it can’t be that bad’ – One could also imply that protectionist behaviors stand in the way of educational change. What happens when I tear into this system? Do I lose credibility? Do I destroy my advantage? How can I criticize my own foundations?

    #3 – ‘It’s good money.’ I’m an academic, I am active within the system of educational politics. I am part of a business cycle that provides mediocre experiences to anyone that flashes the cash (or trades soul for a loan), and business is good. The golden goat is truly made of gold. Sacred, yes – also profitable as hell. I am part of the administration that squanders tax dollars and shorts the classroom resources to do the job. I make a pretty penny. It works for me. Why would I change it?

    #4 – ‘We give people too much credit and blame the system for individual deficiencies and variables that are beyond the control of the education system.’ I don’t believe there’s anything wrong at all. If there were, would we have ANY people that excel within the system? Frankly, there isn’t evidence that implied changes would make any difference at all. Maybe changes would create chaos. Changes to the education system won’t make a difference to the primary intervention anyway. If the children were born at school, our efforts might have a chance of the perfect outcome promised by system changes. The foundations of the child that we are charged to build upon are inconsistently built.

    So, perhaps a study that was designed to expose the issues that stand in the way of change would be better than a study on what the change needs to be. We can’t, and won’t change, if we don’t know fully what we are up against. I have a strong feeling that the biggest barrier is the motivation NOT to change. I think there’s a bit of truth to each of these items. The system is tied in knots. In some cases it’s with good reason.

    ** BTW – I am none of these things:) I have acquired a hodge podge of education and dropped more classes than I finished (I’m bored easily and a scary judge of BS – I can learn more, faster, on my own.) I’m an autodidact, easily bored with the steady regurgitation of the established educational process and have nothing to gain by defending the system that grips the future of our children. If you need another revolutionary for the cause, I’m game.

    I work for the government, I’m here to help:)

    Comment by steve — 31 August 2009 @ 4:30 PM

  5. […] learning experience rather than dumping information on the learner. Some have even blogged about Killing the curriculum and have made some really bold statements. Harold Jarche makes some great points in his post First, […]

    Pingback by No board exams from 2011 in India? | Adagratis.com — 18 October 2011 @ 12:03 PM

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