Constructing Education for the Classroom

When you hear the term education what comes to mind?  For me personally I envision the environment where I teach curriculum and the one where I learned it: school. Education of course encompasses so much more than the curriculum handed to us through the Ministry, the school boards, the schools and then filtered by the teachers. Yes, filtered. There is so much academic material to cover each term that the Ministry offers options in Ontario for teachers to choose from: learning units (or lesson unit)s can go in one direction or another depending on the subject matter. In grade 5 for instance rather than studying Egypt in Social Studies the teacher might choose Mesopotamia. The concept of studying the history of a foreign country and the demographic and culture (within the grasp of a 10-year-old and of course scaled down so as to fit within a single semester) is the same, but the topic entirely different. There is choice according to the educator and his or her construct of what the curriculum and the learning year should be. Watch Should sexual orientation be mandated in the Curriculum?

Some teachers give classes a choice. They present the options that are available for study to the class and say “choose one.” I like the democracy behind the choice of subject matter but notice it’s quite like Canadian politics or perhaps national politics in any democratic country: there is choice within limits or limited choice. Is that a true democracy? Is there such a thing inside and outside of school? Do you remember presenting options to your child or perhaps now to your teen? You can have it this way or that way but not both, which do you prefer, and there is no sarcasm or implied punishment. but getting back to education and choice, even when the class chooses its subject matter, the class and the teacher are all working within someone else’s construct of what an education for this grade at this time in history should be. Even the teacher has no choice in that regard. That is the Ontario Ministry at work. Watch Denmark: More democracy in education

Who decides curriculum within the Ministry?  Clearly the team who constructs curriculum and therefore the educational experience, is composed of people with strong academic credentials and who usually possess significant classroom/teaching experience. It would be very difficult, I should think, to format curriculum when one has never been a teacher. That is analagous to performing surgery when one has never been a doctor. Yet for all that, there exist many disconnects between curriculum mandates, curriculum options and the reality of how curriculum unfolds in the classroom. watch barriers to learning

For instance insisting upon the use of CCC in mathematics, a mandated math software program lacks reality in many ways. The teacher is expected to program the difficulty level of 5 individual math strands for every student in the classroom and after assessing results via a print out every 1 – 2 weeks, s/he must adjust every one of those strands per student in the event that the software program is too easy or too hard. The concept behind the laborious CCC is that it offers teachers insight into independent work of children in mathematics and it gives students the chance to work at a competent, individual level while strengthening their math skills. In reality, it is a great deal of busy work for the teacher who has more than enough assessing, evaluating, preparing and programming as it were for every subject in the curriculum as well as the mathematics that will be taught in the classroom separately from CCC. Not surprisingly feedback from many teachers a number of years ago was decidedly ambiguous. And for the Board to take such a survey suggests the Ministry wanted to know why the program was not being used to its full potential (in other words, why teachers considered it to be redundant). Ah, rhetoric. Introduce it into curriculum and you spend millions of dollars on a program that benefits very few and doesn’t produce desired results.  watch Consider Denmark: Education and innovation

This is a wonderful example of someone else’s construct of education. So too is the concept of inclusion vs exclusion. Within curriculum are many, many flaws that systemically exclude people not physically from the classroom, but their mentors and representatives within curriculum itself. For instance why are certain topics not taught or not permitted in a school (eg. religion in public schools). What about the invisibility factor for gay and lesbian students in curriculum, literature, culture and classroom instruction? In fact every subject matter, every material, every manipulative and every suggestion about how to teach a particular subject to a particular age group of children and youth is someone else’s construct. That is one of the many reasons for miscommunication among teachers and parents and teachers and students. It is another reason why a parent’s vision of what their child’s education should be can differ significantly from the reality of what lies within the curriculum. In a democratic country these are forces beyond educators’ and parents’ control. Makes sense.  Right? Watch Perspectives on Inclusive Teaching.

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