Re: What's old in curriculum configurations

From: Phil Chappell (
Date: Sun Mar 06 2005 - 00:50:57 PST

Point(s) taken!

On 06/03/2005, at 9:25 AM, Jay Lemke wrote:

> A very nice quote from Basil (Bernstein), Phil. How about a little
> more inwardness, feeling, ownership? Not from a one-size-fits-all
> standardized state curriculum.
> I was hardly endorsing primary education, just alluding to the fact
> that while reading, writing, and arithmetic actually do get used by
> most people, along with a little (in the US, very little) bit of
> information about whether Ohio is east or west of Chicago (and Austria
> or Australia in Europe), that there is almost nothing in the secondary
> curriculum that most people really need (however nice it might be to
> know some of these things, and whatever use they may have for people
> who choose a few -- very few -- particular career paths). No one ever
> built a curriculum by going out and looking at what knowledge most
> people really find useful and valuable. But we require ALL students to
> learn a very large body of information, with no real justification.
> Many of you know that my original field was physics and that I've
> worked in science education for decades. It's all supposed to be
> needed to help people make their way in a technological world. It's
> not. Who needs to know about the asexual reproduction of plants, the
> stages of cellular meiosis, or even the theory of evolution? the
> kinetic molecular theory of gases? the difference between ionic and
> covalent bonds? I imagine there are a few things that are so basic
> that no matter what topic about the natural world you were interested
> in, you'd find them helpful ... and for those, there is no need to
> require them, just to make them available.
> Similarly for most of language arts (i.e. canonical novels), social
> studies (i.e. history), and mathematics (factored any polynomials
> lately?).
> The whole idea of organizing learning over periods of years around a
> fixed body of information is ridiculous. Who ever thought this was a
> good idea? When was it ever compared systematically to alternative
> ways of organizing education? (I have no trouble, of course, coming up
> with sociological interpretations of the actual historical
> developments that led us to this nonsense. None of them have anything
> to do with helping most citizens become critical thinkers and set on
> the path to their own life goals.)
> I do take the point that there is both an institutional and cultural
> inertia to be dealt with. We have all these buildings, all these
> chairs and desks, all these people who have spent years preparing to
> and practicing at telling students about what some non-thinking people
> have decided they ought to know. And we have generations of adults who
> have fondly idealized memories of the few good teachers and learning
> moments in their school lives. Those certainly exist. It's not,
> fortunately, possible to design an educational system so bad that real
> learning and excitement about it NEVER happens. Just one in which it
> doesn't happen most of the time, and in which, even when it does, most
> of what is learned has merely cosmetic or sentimental value. I recall
> that my mother, who recently passed away, was always very proud of her
> A-plus in trigonometry. I don't recall that she ever used, remembered,
> or even mentioned anything from the subject, other than her
> achievement (and no doubt a significant one socially and culturally
> for a young woman in the 1930s). Her real interests were in psychology
> (clinical) and music (vocal), and she worked most of her life making
> business and non-profit offices run effectively day to day by thinking
> intelligently about things that are (and probably never will be) in
> any school curriculum.
> I did find very interesting Mark's report on the findings of his
> dissertation, that out-of-school teacher-student relationships are
> forced to re-invent themselves. Perhaps choices about the content of
> what is learned are too.
> If there are people who WANT to come and sit in a room and listen to
> me comment on interesting texts, ask them critical questions and help
> them think through answers, and organize some social activities that
> might help them learn from one another, that's fine with me. But they
> should have a lot of other choices of ways to learn, and things to
> learn. And the choices should be theirs.
> JAY.
> At 07:31 AM 3/4/2005, you wrote:
> I've been wanting to respond to this over the past 24 hours, but it's
> all too depressing! Although grounded in the US post-primary context,
> I have to say that second/third/etc language programs for adults in
> structured situations, with set text books and prescribed methods
> isn't far from what Jay is talking about. After listening to Tom
> Waites' "Bone Machine" album this afternoon, I think I'll just turn
> off the computer and read a comic book.
> But on a serious note, there are historically situated expectations
> of students to think about too, which very much constrain how far you
> can knock down the walls. Adult students' beliefs about what
> constitutes "good" teaching relate to their own experiences in school
> - there's a wealth of evidence there. I'm not sure if the comment:
> "There is no evidence, beyond the most basic elements of primary
> school curriculum, that any of what we spend hours and years teaching
> is actually of any use to most people" implies that we maintain what
> we are doing for primary kids, but if so, wouldn't that perpetuate the
> current crisis? I can't help but return to Basil Bernstein's theory of
> knowledge structures and now try to think about what Jay is saying
> vis-a-vis the dangers of not formally dealing with vertical knowledge
> structures (not putting words in anyones' mouths). Extremely important
> stuff that needs to be confronted.
> A poignant quote from Bernstein to end:
> Of fundamental significance, there is a new concept of knowledge and
> of its relations to those who create it and use it. This new concept
> is a truly secular concept. Knowledge should flow like money to
> wherever it can create advantage and profit. Indeed knowledge is
> divorced from persons, their commitments, their personal dedications.
> These become impediments, restrictions on the flow of knowledge, and
> introduce deformations in the working of the symbolic market. Moving
> knowledge about, or even creating it, should not be more difficult
> than moving and regulating money. Knowledge, after nearly a thousand
> years, is divorced from inwardness and literally dehumanized. Once
> knowledge is separated from inwardness, from commitments, from
> personal dedication, from the deep structure of the self, then people
> may be moved about, substituted for each other and excluded from the
> market"
> Dazed and confused,
> Phil
> Postscript - it would be interesting to see some actual work done on
> chronotopes and formal/informal learning - I've thought a lot about
> how you might go about this, but ethical problems always seem to get
> in the way of things.
> On 03/03/2005, at 10:38 AM, Jay Lemke wrote:
> Very interesting resource links posted recently about issues of
> designs for learning environments.
>  I rather liked the basic ideas in the Duluth harborside plan, though
> perhaps the homebase was short-changed a bit.
>  Let's consider starting from some radical re-engineering of how
> learning is done, and I don't just mean kids in groups, which is great
> for getting them to talk and have a little freedom of action on short
> timescales, but still is mostly NOT a ZPD because of its homogeneity
> with respect to competences relevant to learning goals (though
> valuable insofar as other sorts of diversity leaven the groups).
>  Most basic is getting outside the walls of the school, not just of
> the classroom. Then, giving students more control of the goals of
> their learning, as well as the timing and means. Start by changing the
> power relations. Imagine that it was a learning environment for
> high-status, powerful adults, not for our last remaining legally
> disenfranchised social caste (apart from gays in the US).
>  Look a bit at how citizens of this age group and generation CHOOSE
> to learn when not in school. E.g. how they share tasks of learning to
> become expert players of computer and video-games (and for other
> activities within their own culture-realm, ignored by the curriculum
> and most parents). By and large they do want to play together, which
> is not seen as distinct from learning together. The learn/play
> distinction is itself fundamentally dysfunctional, as we have known
> theoretically at least since LSV and Dewey. While there are purely
> online collaborative groups, there are also usually face to face ones.
> There is the same kind of total integration of practice and learning
> that Lave describes for traditional apprenticeships, and which makes
> sense in age-heterogeneous (and competence-heterogeneous) communities
> -- but not in imitations of these principles in age-homogeneous
> classrooms.
>  Several of the sources posted recently mention the need for a
> variety of different kinds of learning environments, and likewise for
> different kinds of learning/action/play groups: peer groups, peer and
> mentor, competence-diverse, diverse in age and likelihood for forming
> social bonds with similar vs different members, etc. Longterm groups,
> ad hoc groups, across all timescales.
>  A lot less emphasis on adult planning and design and control. Less
> adult pre-occupation with optimizing learning; let people figure out
> how they learn well and support that, in its many forms. Good learning
> arrangements emerge when people get together because they want to
> share in learning/playing/doing. No one has to design it all for them,
> and design really cannot effectively anticipate the variety of
> possible solutions people will come to.
>  But all of this is predicated on something much more basic:
> motivation to learn/play/do. Most of the problems with school-based
> and curriculum-based education comes from the very simple fact that
> most students do not want to learn what someone wants to teach them.
> And they are right. There is no evidence, beyond the most basic
> elements of primary school curriculum, that any of what we spend hours
> and years teaching is actually of any use to most people. Most of it
> is simply artificially over-valued cultural capital, not functional
> cultural capital (or functional only because it is arbitrarily
> valued). The fundamental problem with education today is not teaching
> methods, resources, or learning environments. It is the CONTENT.
>  Still, it is more intellectually interesting to think about the role
> of space and time, by which we usually really mean place and pace, as
> well as movements and traversals, in learning, rather than about why
> schools and their version of "education" are so dysfunctional. It is
> also less depressing.
>  One could take, in a sense, two approaches to this. You could look
> at the chronotopes (space-time-place-pace typical dynamic patterns) of
> non-learning in failing institutions, to see how not to do it, and to
> watch the counter-chronotopes of resistance, appropriation, etc. Or
> you could look at the rarer examples of spontaneous
> learning/playing/doing communities (some of which might even occur in
> schools) and see what their chronotopic patterns are like, and how
> they come up against obstacles and barriers, and which ones they find
> ways around and how.
>  Of course what I would LIKE to study would be such communities for
> which the barriers are removed, so that one could see just how they
> would evolve if our society were actually interested in having people
> learn to think and learn how to succeed at what they want, which it
> clearly, and for fairly obvious reasons, is not (or at least its most
> powerful interests are not).
>  JAY.
>  Jay Lemke
>  Professor
>  University of Michigan
>  School of Education
>  610 East University
>  Ann Arbor, MI 48109
>  Tel. 734-763-9276
>  Email.
>  Website.
> Jay Lemke
> Professor
> University of Michigan
> School of Education
> 610 East University
> Ann Arbor, MI 48109
> Tel. 734-763-9276
> Email.
> Website.

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