Monday, April 5, 2010

On Jack Johnson, Trains and Curriculum ...

I was listening to Jack Johnson's excellent album In Between Dreams today when his song Breakdown came on. Here is an except of the lyrics for those who have not heard this song (which ranks as one of my favourite songs of all time):

I hope this old train breaks down
Then I could take a walk around
And, see what there is to see
And time is just a melody
All the people in the street
Walk as fast as their feet can take them
I just roll through town
And though my windows got a view
The frame I'm looking through
Seems to have no concern for now

When I first heard this album I was living in Cape Town, South Africa working as a waiter at a Mexican Restaurant (I know, it makes no sense). I listened to this song a lot as I was backpacking around Southern Africa and it resonated with my wish to get out of the bus I was in to explore everything that was rushing by me. But the bus kept going ...

Today, it hit me an entirely different way. I was thinking about all the times in school when we are exploring a curriculum mandated topic and the students and teacher would love to stop the curriculum train to explore the current topic. But the train keeps going ...

It seems to me that our current model of education views curriculum as the train; it drives education. This model may be preferred by some as it removes much of the control from the individual teachers, who may choose to teach different topics. However, what it fails to do is to allow for exploration, to permit creativity and to generate passion about the topics. We have a set time to explore a topic, and whether or not we want to move on, we must when the time is up (or we need to dredge through 3 more weeks on a topic no one cares about).

What if we instead switched our model and made the curriculum the track and allowed the teachers to control the train. We would all have a set path to follow, but we would be allowed to stop and gawk when it was appropriate. Or to speed on through when the scenery wasn't to the groups liking. We could even stop the train in the station for a day or so and go on a walkabout; exploring that stop in more detail because our students wanted to.

Imagine that, no longer needing to view the curriculum just through our window frame which, according to Jack Johnson, "seems to have no concern for now", but instead getting out of the train and seeing things unobstructed, freely, and without restraint.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Where are the Students?

While wandering through the woods today:

I saw the deer and thought this is Biology.
I saw the different biomes and thought this is Geography.
I saw the roots of the upturned trees and thought this is History.
I saw chickadees flying through the air and thought this is Physics.
I heard the animals chattering around me and thought this is Music.
I saw the marsh grasses purifying the water and thought this is Chemistry.
I felt the perfection of nature and thought this is Math.
I saw the beauty around me and thought this is Art.
I felt connections to everything around me and thought this is Philosophy.
I felt these words flow through me and thought this is English.

Then I saw that I was alone,

And I thought, where are the students?

What did you learn in school today?

I learned that knowledge is static.
I learned that I have no hope of learning on my own, knowledge must come from my teacher.
I learned that learning is best done quietly and in rows.
I learned that fun has no place in life.
I learned that I am not smart enough to learn on my own.
I learned that conformity is valued more than creativity.
I learned that my opinion and ideas are worthless.
I learned that my greatest achievement will be a test score.

What did you teach your students today?