Curriculum... What is it exactly?

We're about to get very theoretical, hold on to your hats!


In the beginning there was no sky, no sea, no earth and no Gods. There was only darkness, only Te Kore, the Nothingness. The very beginning was made from nothing.


This is the beginning of both the biblical and the Maori myths of the story of creation. It is in fact the beginning of many genesis stories.


It is also the beginning of knowing.


The curriculum seems to be part of the process between nothing and knowing. Curriculum plays some role in moving from one state to another. Curriculum seems to be key in the selection, creation, participation and acquisition of new knowledge, ways of being, and modes of acting.


Assessment seems to be connected to the nothing and knowing states, and differentiates the two.


In this journey, that I invite my students to travel, they move from not knowing about something to knowing about something. There is a set of ideas, knowledge, skills, values and dispositions that they encounter and interact with along the way. There are moments of insight that they experience.


My definition of curriculum includes the experience of moving from nothing to knowing, supported by various people, places, thoughts, activities, exchanges and opportunities. So curriculum includes the ‘value added’ changes and the process and agents of change.


Assessment asks: To what extent is the movement from nothing to knowing successful? To what degree has it been an efficient or effective process? To what degree has the knower moved along the pathway to knowing?


From nothing to knowing


Before there is any knowing, there is a time of not knowing. In this time there is no inkling or understanding of any future knowing, there is just nothing. Imagine a time before a student knows anything about Montessori pedagogy. There was not even any knowledge of 'the something'. There was not even any knowledge that 'the something' existed.


Through time and experience that emptiness of not knowing becomes the light of predawn. At some point, within the consciousness there becomes a point of preception, time before there is knowing. The time of pre-knowing is a time of expectancy, curiosity and pause; reflection, pregnant with a hope or glimmer of the future. The student knows now that there is such as 'the something' – though may not know yet what that means.


With time, perhaps by research, visiting, or talking, or by whatever means, the student starts to gain a perception of 'the something'. They can ‘see’ it, they know it exists. As the senses begin to perceive, and differentiate ideas, so the awareness grows. Through intuition or via perception an awareness of a something starts to emerge. This awareness focuses attention, and more knowledge is added and created. The student perceives the new knowledge, there is something there, something to study, to absorb, to understand.


With increased experience the student gains sufficient pathways to understanding and starts to have a conception of the knowledge. Connections between fragments of ideas start to be made. When the student conceives the new knowledge, new ideas can be formed. The conceptual student has an independent experience of the new knowledge and has a vague set of ideas. The student can now understand that there is a notion of 'the something' and has an incomplete, shaky and perhaps evolving understanding of what it means.


At some point the student communicates the knowledge. It might be through reading or discussions, through video, or insight that the student gains through shared language experience. Language enables the abstract manipulation of emergent concepts. This involves using language to describe, to test hypotheses, to share detail, to argue subtleties and to form new knowledge. The student can now wrestle with ideas of pedagogy.


As the student gains in knowledge of 'the something', there is less of a literal understanding, and more of a nuanced set of meanings. The student can manipulate the deeper contextual features of the knowledge. The student creates deliberate and nuanced shifts in meaning, can create deceptions of the absolute truth through clever manipulations, jokes and deceptions.


These stages are not discrete, linear or always present. There are some folding and refolding of learning. There are many iterative pathways, many parallel learning experiences, many recursive and complex learning pathways.


Curriculum is a pathway from nothing to knowing.


It seems as though the curriculum is seen as a positive benefit, it is a movement toward and acquisition of, and increment in value and worth. Curriculum participation is desirable. It is what we seek, in fact, curriculum, as ‘ostensibly measured by assessment toward qualifications’ is something that people will pay for and sacrifice large amounts of time in their lives for to work toward.


There are two symmetric but differently orientated process that occur with curriculum. I call this the inward and outward journey. The outward journey is the learning and experience of novel connections and meaning-making based in the experiential world. The inward journey has the same magnitude but different direction, is the development of self; the chiselling away to define the human within. The inward journey recognises that within the block of marble there is a potentially beautiful statue. The chiseling removes fragments of rock to reveal the form. Through curriculum we experience the outer world through sensation, and simultaneously co-create our inner self through mapping the experiences onto our intimate understanding of self.


If you'd like to know more about how this plays out in the Montessori world and at Peace Experiment, send us a message, we love to hear from you!


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