Re: What's old in curriculum configurations

From: Peg Griffin (
Date: Sun Mar 06 2005 - 09:12:23 PST

Hi, all,
The point that most jumped out at me was this one in Jay's note, " If there
are people who WANT to come and ...." and then he went on to describe an
active learning environment he would arrange and continued "should have a
lot of other choices ..."

And it got me to reflect on how do people get to want... choose to choose...
and what is there in early education that has to do with the tools and the
knowledge base to choose? I think this is an addition to the utilitarian
metric about educational content that has been implied.

The issue of choice, Hobson's choice, masqueraded choice, last resort,
forced choice was always a big problem in the FIFTH DIMENSION re-designs.

The idea was for children to have consequences to their work that involved
choices. More effort achievement/more choices. (We did have "storms" that
messed up the operation/consequences of choices so we didn't have a world
where effort and achievement always trumped outside circumstances.) A first
level would be no child choice but wizard dictated next destination in the
Fifth Dimension; the second level would be a choice among two or three next
destinations; and the third would be even more choice, some that could
effect choices well in the future (like a pass to save and use later to skip
a destination). Kids had peers, older siblings, and teachers and
assistants to talk through the situation with so maybe some real cognizing
about choice could occur.

But we found ourselves regularly failing by making it so the choice offered
was not a choice for the child at all.
We were so good at tricking ourselves into offering choices that took no
choosing, that were purely rhetorical ones. We would put the Mean Streets
story builder next to a horrible spelling drill, so almost any kid would
take the Mean Streets which we valued more for education and research
purposes. We would maneuver so that The Pond (a mathematics environment we
valued for education and research purposes) was never a choice along with
Parsec (a super duper arcade game) because no one would ever pick the Pond.
We had to put in all kinds of procedures to check on ourselves so that we
did not take away choice by exercising control in our design, inadvertently
or not.

So, in the worlds that lead to Jay's classroom door how do the choices
arise/get shaped/ get taken away?
And what can happen in earlier education to make the choice and the choice
maker more likely to be genuine?

----- Original Message -----
From: "Phil Chappell" <>
To: <>
Sent: Sunday, March 06, 2005 2:50 AM
Subject: Re: What's old in curriculum configurations

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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