Tuesday, May 21, 2013

A View of Curriculum from 30,000 Feet

Image: Jorge Royan [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

So we had a quick trip to a warm, sunny spot (lovely) and on the flight home I was doing some reading to prepare for a course I'm teaching this summer. The book was Curriculum 21: Essential Education for a Changing World, edited by Heidi Hayes Jacobs. I'm enjoying the book very much, and challenged by it at the same time: it's well-written, compelling, thoughtful stuff about the curricular needs for students, teachers, schools, and society in the 21st Century.

As I read, we hit enough turbulence that I was feeling a little airsick and put the book down for a bit. It got me thinking about flying.

I was a middle school science teacher for quite a few years, and I understand the physics of flight well enough: thrust vs. drag, lift vs. gravity, Bernoulli's principle, Newtonian mechanics, and all that. But I also have the intellectual clarity that when push comes to shove, I'm sitting in a metal tube 30,000 feet off the ground. And every time the plane would shimmy or dip, my lurching stomach was frightfully aware of that fact!

When I think about curriculum--and dramatically changing our designs and structures for school curricula, as Jacobs' book suggests--I think it's probably something like turbulence at 30,000 feet. We start getting nervous. We feel a little queasy. We may understand the theory of it all, and even give intellectual assent to the idea of altering the status quo...but when we really think of the implications of that...well, it feels like we might be about to plummet to our doom.

I'm excited about teaching the course. I'm excited to try and get my students to think audacious ideas about curriculum. But I'm also leery of causing their stomachs to lurch too much in the process. Because the high-level, 30,000 foot view of things may be different from the way things look on the ground...

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