the problem with curriculum


I'm becoming increasingly aware of the problem with how we understand curriculum.  There was probably a time when curriculum related more clearly to the sum of experiences in schooling, but that time has passed.  Back when I was doing my pre-service teacher education, I learned that curriculum referred to a set of documents.. the outline of what we were supposed to teach.  I heard whispers every now and then about this thing called a hidden curriculum as well, but as exciting as that idea was at the time, I've come to think that both concepts are equally problematic--though for different reasons.  These days the best we seem to be able to come up with is the idea of standards. 

The problem with curricula, or standards, or syllabuses, is that they almost always reduce education to a set of things that students are supposed to learn.  This then gets flipped around to become what teachers are supposed to teach.  Do you see the problem yet?  Once we conceive of education in these terms, we have pre-emptively narrowed the scope to content.. and the best we can do is teach "about".  Sure, a lot of curricula are conceptualized around KSAs.. knowledge and skills, with the inclusion of attitudes.. but attitudes are usually just a token gesture.. a kind of aspiration that nobody really takes serious.  Love of literature or whatever, okay, maybe next year.  The entire educational act gets reduced to content.  This is toublesome because what we want education to accomplish isn't just science and social studies.. education is supposed to have something to do with social development, with citizenship.. and if we really thinking about it these days, it should have something to do with sustainability, with social justice, with peace and tolerance, and so on.. 

This all comes from a problematic view of what's going on in schools.  It's the long refuted banking model, where kids come in each day and receive their deposits (although the cynic might question what is being deposited).  But looking deeper, even many of those who espouse student centred ideals still haven't changed their concepts.  They just have fancier ways of making deposits.  What curriculum developers almost uniformly fail to recognize is that schooling is as much about socialization and enculturation as it is about learning in the colloquial sense. To reduce a curriculum to KSAs is like saying kids can eat whatever they want as long as it's square.  The motherhood statement in the introduction to the curriculum that talks about citizenship, well, that's just mislabeling the ingredients.