The Knife-Edge of Praxis

You can tell we’re entering crunch time in the semester; more of us are closing the library at night and I’ve taken to packing a power strip when I head in for the day– it’s hard to believe there are not enough outlets for a table of six earnest (panicking?) grad students. Lightning Ridge

My current mission is a short paper due tonight, for my class in curriculum theory. We’ve been reading a lot about reconceptualizing the field, most recently the 26 page preface to William Pinar’s INTELLECTUAL ADVANCEMENT THROUGH DISCIPLINARITY: Verticality and Horizontality in Curriculum Studies. Perhaps it’s the time in the semester, perhaps it’s that I’m preoccupied with other fairly major endeavors– like revising/editing my 60-page qualifying paper–but I gotta say, I left the paper with a vague sense, at best, of what it was about.

Here’s what I gleaned, in decidedly non-academic language discourse. Curriculum theorists need to infiltrate academic domains and ask the tough questions: What is important to know, why, who decides, and who is served by the knowing. But even within the academic domain, the approach shouldn’t perpetuate the typical silo-ization that artificially separates one discipline from another, nor the false comfort of boundaried educational perspectives of a single nation state.


Here’s just an example of Pinar’s writing style: “To study the discipline’s verticality, historical studies are primary, as history is the first casualty in the futurism of the present (see Pinar 2004a, p.133)” (2007, p. xiii). Translations are welcome in the comments section, below.

Despite the over-abundance of readings from Pinar, a decidedly brilliant and important thinker, I have deeply appreciated the course for exposing me to perspectives of the reconceptualist movement in the field of curriculum. Maybe that’s because I have found validation of my own intuitive approaches to teaching and beliefs about learning.

We build schooling around the idea that if kids can swallow master enough content, they’ll be ready “for college and careers,” at least, according to the newly anointed Common Core Standards. Thus, the traditional approach to curriculum is to lay out the content of a discipline that should be “covered” during the academic year of a particular grade level.

Silos, and a race to reach the top.

I see curriculum as a way of being, at least that should be students’ experiences of learning. See below for the video of Alan November’s recent talk at TEDxNYED, or visit the web site of Marice Gibbons, who is currently interested in self-directed learning. He posts links to a number of articles here. One of my favorites is “WALKABOUT: Searching for the Right Passages.” (Disclaimer: I taught for almost a dozen years in a Walkabout Program, built on Gibbons’ principles.) Brilliant educators around the world are currently working on how to incorporate web-based and other technologies to design classroom experiences, school-wide programs, and schools that push at the boundaries of the current educational paradigm.

However, I continue to wrestle with the question  of how to move ideals and ideas of reconceptualists into practice, system- or school-wide. I’m much more comfortable in bringing these into teacher education, i.e., my own classes. I want my students to delve into their experiences in order to better understand the sources of their beliefs and assumptions about teaching and learning. I’d like to think I design classes that honor student perspectives that are different than mine, but let’s be honest– if you walk into a school today and check in at the main office, don’t you get a little uptight about running into the principal? Teachers occupy power-saturated positions.

I also believe that content matters. Hence, the knife-edge. I’m looking forward to my final product for this class. I plan to review my syllabus for my favorite class through the lenses of reconceptualized curricular theory and see what I can create.

In the meantime, it’s back to Pinar. Send some positive energy my way.

TEDxNYED Alan November 3/5/11

Image: “Lightning Ridge” © Vern & Skeet 2010 via Creative Commons License Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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