Curriculum is an important concept, especially in regards to the value education has on the growth of a successful society. Through research and analysis, this report examines discussions surrounding curriculum theories, the personal implications that these theories put on me as an educator, and the results of experimentation in the different methods of pedagogy. Through dissections of topics such as political battlegrounds around curriculum, self-education surrounding diverse curriculum ideologies, patterns of injustice in the education system, and an overall connection to the history of colonialism, I have been able to develop equitable and efficient teaching methods that include student voice in the classroom while increasing the influence from the community in which I teach. The findings from my investigations show vital evidence concerning the importance of literacy and how curriculum must evolve with the times and community in which it is being taught.
Curriculum is the vague term thrown around each morning faculty meeting and professional development training to explain what it is we teachers are creating and facilitating each day. Fortunately, I am in a position where the lessons and activities I teach and create are not under strict guidelines beyond state standards and expectations. I am able to dive into topical discussions and questionable issues as long as I tow the line of informative discourse and unbiased direction. I am one of the lucky few. Too often today, decision making behind curriculum choices is passed down from out of touch lawmakers and an overly cautious administration too afraid to make firm, progressive decisions in regards to what is being taught. Unfortunately, the definition of progressive comes dangerously close to meaning completely true and uncomfortable. Those in power are so afraid of opposition from the other political aisle sneaking their agendas into school curriculum that they work ceaselessly to condemn teachings that do not align completely with their political ideologies. These decisions are made by the wrong people and are consistently based in ignorance and fear, thus potentially creating a new generation of misinformed and like-minded individuals who are incapable of cognitive decision-making and who lack the proper skills to succeed in the real world.
Curriculum: Created From Fear and Doused in Ignorance
Personal Implications and Action Plan
So what can one teacher do in this larger, imperfect educational world? Researching and understanding the systemic oppression and discrimination within education is only valuable when it is paired with taking steps to improve the environment in which you teach and support the community you serve. There are three areas of teachers’ work that should be evaluated in order to determine if successful education is taking place. If my classroom is to be a place that pushes for social justice, I must strive to engage with my students in (a) academic success, (b) cultural competence and (c) sociopolitical consciousness. Furthermore, my classroom must be centered on Historically Responsive Literacy (HRL) which Muhammad (2020) defines as “teaching, learning and leadership beliefs and practices [that] authentically respond to students’ cultural identities, the cultural identities of others, and the social times” (p. 48).
Academic Success. Successful academic achievement for students is a crucial requirement for all teachers, whether it is an expectation set at the district level or within an individual school. Academic success is “the intellect students gain as a result of classroom instruction and learning” (Muhammad, 2020, p. 45). This concept is one usually defined by test scores or student growth in relation to previous assessments administered by the school. In my analysis of student academic success, however, I must ensure that my instruction and the assessments used to assess it are based on my “students’ reserves of knowledge constituted by events and activities of their households and communities” (p. 47).
Cultural Competence. In the same way, as a nonmember of the community in which I teach, I must be able to accept and learn from my students and other members of their community. Since there is such a unique diversity among my students (South Asian refugees and Central/South American immigrants), “the ability to help students appreciate and celebrate their cultures of origin while gaining knowledge of and fluency in at least one other culture” will only increase the safety and comfortability my pupils will feel in our classroom (Muhammad, 2020, p. 45). Introducing students to other cultures and traditions is an important step in explaining the connection we share in this classroom.
Sociopolitical Consciousness. Defined as “the ability to take learning beyond the confines of the classroom using school knowledge and skills to identify, analyze, and solve real world problems,” sociopolitical consciousness cannot be achieved without the first two steps discussed above. When there is an understanding of diversity in their own classroom and a developed empathy for the lives of others, the process of sociopolitical consciousness is much more possible and understandable for students to pursue. There are many ways to go about this, but the major approach will be listening to and trusting the child, engaging in teacher action research, asking students to write their autobiographies, having students interview parents or family members of students who are culturally different from them, and studying curriculum to explore ways I can make studies meaningful for students, their families, and their communities (p. 52).
Classroom Implementation and Findings
The methods and materials used in my classroom must be focused on all the factors in HRL for my instruction to be anti-colonial, equity-centered, and successfully implemented. Four questions are important to consider when deciding what teaching procedures will be best for the classroom (Muhammad, 2020, p.58). As I answer each question, I will dissect the project-based lesson that students will be completing this year as it pertains to the question being asked.
How will my instruction help students to learn something about themselves and/or about others?
On a street corner, across from the school where I teach, there is a new development going up that will result in the building of 44 luxury condominiums. Locals are worried about the prices of rent going up and their neighborhood being just another community displaced and overrun by gentrification. “Residents chanted in English, Spanish, Burmese and Karen” in protest of the development project stating a concern for “no affordable housing” in the area already (Leibee, 2022). In class my students read the article written by Leibee (2022) so they could understand why people were protesting the project and why the Aurora Planning and Zoning Commission decided to approve the plan. In addition, they discussed which community of people they identified with most and they were partnered with another member from a different community. Within these groups, they learned the history of their classmates’ cultures and how this development would impact the community as a whole. To end the week, adult members representing our Burmese and Spanish speaking communities came into class to discuss their role in the community and the goals they have for the future. Students then wrote a reflection on their views of the development project and whether or not they agree with its approval to continue.
How will my instruction build students’ skills for the content area?
Our current topic in History class is the Constitutional Convention and the details of the Constitution. Having a protest occur outside our classroom window was the perfect opportunity to implement active events from the community into our lesson. I assigned my students to research the history of different neighborhoods around the Denver area and how they have changed over the years. We discussed shifting demographics, religions, housing prices, leaders, and many other topics. They practiced debates, public speaking, and key vocabulary terms all centered around our rights as Americans and the standards in my assigned curriculum. I have students who never spoke in class or even wrote answers down on assignments that are now actively contributing to group projects in order to ensure their voice and the voice of their classmates will be heard. The development in their skills and engagement in the lesson is a perfect example of how important it is to request, accept, and implement student voice and opinion in the classroom.
How will my instruction build students’ knowledge and mental powers?
My students are actively learning about the system which they are a part of by researching community leaders, both political and nonpolitical, and analyzing the history of the area in which they reside. Knowledge is something each student already has, but the mental power to utilize that knowledge is key to student sustainability after schooling is over. The students in my classroom now have the knowledge of what is happening in the community, the evidence and research to decide whether they agree with the decisions being made, and the means to professionally argue and exercise their rights as members of that community. I have students writing petitions for changes in the uniform policy at school or asking about their 4th amendment rights when a teacher or staff member searches their backpacks. Their confidence has skyrocketed from their practices in social justice discussions because they feel represented, heard, and valued each day in class.
How will my instruction engage students’ thinking about power and equity and the disruption of oppression?
The final project for this lesson will require each student to write or type a formal letter to members of the community that are responsible for this development or approved of the project’s progression. They will use facts and evidence in explaining their opinions, whether they agree with the development or not. Using their knowledge of demographics and ethnic diversity in the area, as compared to the lack of diversity among leaders in the legislative departments in their community, they will form respectful arguments that encourage the receivers of the letters to think about their decisions more closely. The letters will be mailed to each office accordingly. Next, students have created a petition for the cancellation of the development that they have started in the school and intend to pass around the community. While the actual impact this may have on the development is unknown, the students are excited about speaking up for their community and standing up for those who feel neglected and oppressed. Throughout this project I have seen academic success, cultural competence, and sociopolitical consciousness thrive within the supportive and accepting environment in my classroom.
I have noticed key components within my school that match with “evidence of anti-intellectualism” and colonialist mentalities, such as: “prescribed and packaged curriculum with scripts for teaching, the over-reliance of testing of objective knowledge of skills, [and] the lack of planning time teachers have for innovation and creation in curriculum” (Muhammad, 2020, p. 113). It has been frustrating to learn a variety of new concepts, focused on equity and social justice, but then be told my methods are not following the desired curriculum I have been asked to teach. My findings have shown that each example of colonialism has hindered student growth and limited my ability to authentically connect my students’ experiences with the lessons in class.
Prescribed and Packaged Curriculum
For English Language Arts, Social Studies, and Math, our school has specific, script-led lesson plans that teachers are asked to follow. Needless to say, this is incredibly frustrating for teachers such as myself who understand the negative impact and missed opportunity that these approaches to curriculum create. In an attempt to have evidence that supports my desire to stray from the prescribed curriculum, I decided to undertake this project in my classroom without the approval or knowledge of my coach. I restructured the curriculum they gave me, following the standards required by the state and district, but made my own script based around HRL methods of teaching. This allowed the students to help create the script, by adding their stories and experiences into the lesson plans, and made them feel a part of the lesson. While student enjoyment is something that is difficult to assess and gather in regards to data, my coaches, colleagues, and students have expressed a noticeable difference in community and student engagement when entering my classroom as compared to others. Removing this colonialism-inspired strategy is the key to achieving true success through Social Reconstruction Ideology, which Schiro (2013) defines as the method when “teachers find out what students know, draw it out of them, and help them reflect, analyze, and reconstruct their meanings” (p. 187).
Over-reliance of testing of objective knowledge of skills
Just as Muhammad (2020) explains how “deficit thinking is wrong and inhumane and still affects today’s youth,” there is a similar worry when it comes to objective assessments in my school (p. 102). If I do not accept the fact that the foundation of my school is rooted in a history of biases, then I have failed to do a large part of what teachers need to do. My assessments need to be carefully constructed and rubrics must be seen through the lens of a community member. Again, “bias and partiality are inherent in the very nature of education,” so requesting support from non-educators who are active members of the community can allow me to ensure my testing is both equitable and socially conscious (Schiro, 2013, p.172). I asked students to propose rubric ideas that I would then look over and adjust for standards and scaffolds. After those two steps, I called on members of different communities to examine and critique what we graded for in our assignments. Once they gave feedback, I was able to feel comfortable with how I assessed the students in my class and the grades were stronger than when I graded off of the prescribed rubrics or objective lens from school assessments.
The lack of planning time teachers have for innovation and creation in curriculum
When talking with other educators or leaders, this is a common topic of discussion in many schools across the country. Unfortunately, this is one that is out of my control. I can, of course, take personal time to grade and lesson plan on weekends but that does not make for a sustainable career in education. Moving forward, this will be my focus and platform for my school. I am advocating for schedule shifts and role changes so that myself and my colleagues can have ample time to create imaginative lessons that explore student backgrounds and identities. James and Brookfield (2014) explain how “exercising imagination is inherently engaging, so a classroom in which students use their imaginations to study content, play with ideas, and imagine new possibilities should be an engaging one” (p. 4). Without a reasonable amount of planning time – not grading, family communication, school meetings, professional developments, IEP meetings, parent teacher conferences time, etc. – but real, deliberate time for planning, our classrooms will not be able to break out of the colonial mindset that we find ourselves suffocating in from time to time.
Changes in curriculum are influenced by many people outside of the educational system, including those who create them, who influence them, who decide how and when to implement them, and many other factors. With intentionality behind social justice, equity, and anti-colonialism, my lessons have led to student growth both emotionally and academically, and drastically improved student engagement in the classroom. These findings reflect Eisner’s (2002) explanation of curriculum as school experiences “because children differ from one another in background, aptitudes, interests, and the like, the curriculum was never identical for different children.” (p. 26). The lessons that are taught must represent who they are being taught to at a personal level and, in the same way, objective assessments must be examined closely by those administering them. James and Brookfield (2014) claim that “imagination is the key to human progress” and “the unpredictability of engaging the imagination makes it hard to adapt to classroom environments ruled by rigid assessment protocols” (p. 3). If progress is truly what policy makers and educational leaders want for their society, it is time to listen to those such as teachers, students, and community members.
Even though there is an “ideological war in the U.S. that is being fought on two fronts, the educational establishment and the minds and spirits of every American concerned with what is happening in our educational system,” Schiro (2013) explains the different theories of curriculum in order to shorten the gap between those on opposing sides (p. 9). Education is too complex for simple answers, and if history has taught the world anything, it is that it is crucial to learn from opposing sides and know that your views may be outdated, discriminatory, or even blatantly incorrect. Most importantly, curriculum must keep up with the evolution of education and be a representation of the community in which it is taught, yet consciously informative of all communities within our society. Baker-Bell et al. (2017) explained the importance of this understanding best, stating “the pedagogy of healing…consists of two sets of tools: (1) tools to heal: acknowledging that the wound exists and identifying its culprit, and (2) tools to transform: responding to the wound using a tool that works to transform the conditions that led to the wound” (p. 139). Taking these steps to heart is the goal I intend to accomplish in my teaching methodology. Taking this understanding and newfound knowledge will allow me to support my students, amplify their voices, and backup my educational techniques with strong overall student achievement.
Baker-Bell, A., Jones Stanbrough, R., & Everett, S. (2017). The stories they tell: Mainstream media, pedagogies of healing, and critical media literacy. English Education, 49(2), 130-152.
Eisner, E. W. (2002). The educational imagination: On the design and evaluation of school programs. Merrill Prentice Hall.
James, A., & Brookfield, S. (2014). Engaging Imagination: Helping Students Become Creative and Reflective Thinkers (pp. 3-23). Jossey-Bass.
Leibee, K. (2022, October 18). East Colfax, Aurora Neighbors Protest Luxury Condos Coming to Area. Westword. https://www.westword.com/denver/Content?editor=true&oid=15251506
Muhammad, G. (2020). Cultivating Genius: An Equity Framework for Culturally and Historically Responsive Literacy. Scholastic Inc.
Schiro, M. (2013). curriculum theory (2nd ed.). SAGE.
To cite this work, please use the following reference:
Miller, F. (2023, May 23). Curriculum: Created from fear and doused in ignorance. Social Publishers Foundation. https://www.socialpublishersfoundation.org/knowledge_base/curriculum-created-from-fear-and-doused-in-ignorance/