I’m part of the curriculum and so are you. This is an important truth that allows us to journey from tame to wild learning, from contained and constricted to incredible and unexpected journeys of transformational learning.
In a traditional sense, a curriculum consists of the course of study on any educational level. Or, many people today start with defining curriculum by the learning objectives, what students need to know and be able to do at the end of a course or program. Go to a typical school and ask teachers to show you their curriculum, and they will likely show a digital or physical book of lessons and learning experiences, perhaps a textbook, and other related learning experiences. Others will explain that the curriculum consists of standards, courses, units, learning objectives, content and learning resources, along with assessments and other graded assignments or activities. Yet, I’d like to suggest that all of these definitions miss an important part of the curriculum.
I value the definition used by AV Kelly in The Curriculum: Theory and Practice (p.13). “The curriculum is the totality of the experiences the pupil has as a result of the provision made.” I appreciate such a broad definition based upon the way that I represent the “essentials” of a learning experience. The only two critical elements for a learning experience would be a learner and an experience.
As such, as much as people today focus upon the content, the standards, the objectives, and the assessments as critical elements of a curriculum, perhaps we are wise to not forget yet another important part of the curriculum, the learner. While most people don’t think of the students themselves as part of the curriculum, they are critical to understanding what is learned and why it is learned. In that way, it is impossible to separate the learner from the rest of the curriculum.
If I am part of a learning experience, then I am part of the curriculum. The latin for curriculum refers to the idea of a course, as in a race course, a road, or a pathway. It comes from the metaphor of learning as a race, but I like to think of it even more as a journey. We all know that you don’t have much of a journey without a person going on it. Also, even if you have ten people on the same journey but at different times, we all know that it will be a qualitatively different journey because of the people involved. Each person brings different goals, values, beliefs, and experiences. Each person will learn something slightly different from the same journey. Each person will add something new to the experience of fellow sojourners.
There are certainly shared experiences and common lessons, but in the wilds of real life, you can’t control or manipulate a course or journey so that everyone has the same experience and there is the exact same outcome. In fact, if you achieve that, you probably do so by taming the journey, by making it something less real, less wonderful, less like a journey. We risk doing that when we only think of curriculum in terms of the controllables, the objectives, the assessments, the carefully considered plans.
I’ve never seen a lion in the wild, but I’m told that it is a completely different experience than seeing it in a cage or in a circus. One is distant, controlled, and incapable of displaying its full potential. It is beautiful, even majestic. It might not be tame, but it is contained, and that changes the experience for the viewer, but so much more for the lion. The same thing is true with our curricula.
This is not just some esoteric musing about how we are all part of the curriculum. It is a hard fact that has important implications for how we imagine the nature of education and schooling in the modern world. Yet, it is a largely foreign concept for many of us in education today. At the same time, it is wonderfully familiar if we only take a moment to reflect on the best and most valuable parts of our own learning journeys over the years. Now, what would it look like if our classrooms and school reconsidered the ways in which we went about education in view of this fact?