Development of Curriculum

Part 1) According to the Levin article, how are school curricula developed and implemented? What new information/perspectives does this reading provide about the development and implementation of school curriculum? Is there anything that surprises you or maybe that concerns you?

According to Levin’s article, curriculum is developed by a key group of actors: national, local, and provincial levels of government; teachers, administrators, business interests, community members, post-secondary subject experts, post-secondary institutions, and the Minister of Education.

These actors work together to assess the efficiency of the current curriculum as well as posit potential revisions or re-workings of the current curriculum. Research is brought forward for consideration as well as the requirements for post-secondary institutions and subjects and competencies that employers are looking for in their employees. The process of curriculum revision can take years and undergo a number of pilot periods before a version is reached that is accepted by the majority of reviewers. Ultimately, final decisions for curriculum revision fall before the mercy of government bodies.

I was surprised to learn just how much influence politics has over policy changes in education. Teachers are literally at the mercy of government bodies vis-a-vis the policies that dictate how they teach, what they teach, when they teach, etc. Of course this is concerning, but at the moment this is the nature of the beast. Increased weight from the perspectives of teachers as well as students would make me feel much more confident in the direction of education in Saskatchewan.

Part 2) After reading pages 1-4 of the Treaty Education document, what connections can you make between the article and the implementation of Treaty Education in Saskatchewan? What tension might you imagine were part of the development of the Treaty Education curriculum?

Perhaps the most glaring tension that I noticed boils down to a quote from Levin, “the more significant the proposed change, the more likely it is to have limited adoption.” Treaty Education was a completely new policy. To my knowledge it had no fore-bearers. According to Levin, the more drastic a change, the more resistance it will receive and the less-likely it is to be implemented. This holds tremendous implications for something as important as Treaty Education. If teachers refuse to implement it, they are not only failing to perform their job as mandated by the government, but they are doing a disservice to their students and perpetuating the current North American world-view that First Nations people and concerns are “less than” or unimportant.

The other issue that I see, as raised by Levine, is that the more specialized a curriculum is, the more difficult it is to implement by teachers who likely do not have the same level of training or education in the field as the experts who shaped the curriculum. The contributors to the Treaty Education document consists primarily of experts in their field and Elders. Admittedly, the Elders serve double duty of acting as both experts in their field and as those having a finger on the pulse of First Nations issues and concerns, but many teachers in Saskatchewan are not of First Nations descent and as such will struggle to present the curriculum. They will not be able to offer the same depth of knowledge in Treaty Education as those who crafted the curriculum. With any luck, teachers will put in the effort to learn about First Nations issues and concerns which will allow them to draw from a greater depth of knowledge as opposed to the shallow puddle of knowledge that many, myself included, are currently drawing from.


Why bother teaching Treaty Education or teaching from Indigenous Peoples’ perspectives?

Why emphasize Treaty Education? What is the point of implementing it and teaching about Indigenous Peoples’ perspectives in classrooms that may not have a single Indigenous student? Does it have any value? Any merit?

Yes. One thousand times, yes.

Treaty Education is not just a topic for Indigenous students. Treaty Education impacts each and every Canadian. Treaty Education speaks to our shared history and allows us to view ourselves in relation to the land we inhabit. Treaty matters.

To quote directly from the Saskatchewan Curriculum’s section on Treaty EducationWe Are All Treaty People. It is important for all students to understand that all people benefit from Treaties 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 10, which cover all of what is now Saskatchewan. It is imperative that the British Crown, First Nations and Métis’ history and perspectives are taught in order to respect the Treaty relationship that was envisioned at the time of Treaty-making between First Nations people and the Crown.”

It is important to realize that you cannot simply teach about the impacts of residential schools or the significance of treaty relationships without first having at least a basic grasp of Canada’s history and the part that each people group has played in shaping that shared history. Context matters.

Teaching Treaty Education allows us to better take part in the ongoing conversation about the relationships between Indigenous Peoples’ and Canadians. It gives us a better understanding of that conversation. In his lecture On What Terms Can We Speak, Dwayne Donald states that there’s a disconnect between Indigenous Peoples and Canadians when sitting down at the table to talk. He argues that each group comes to the discussion with their own perspectives and that without understanding each other and our shared history, there will always be a disconnect as a result of the ongoing effects of colonialism.

While it is done with good intentions, you cannot teach Treaty Education or teach about residential schools while bypassing the history of what has happened between Indigenous Peoples’ and Canadians. That shared history is crucial to understanding. As Donald said, “the way you think about the relationship has a distinctive bearing on how you approach it in the classroom.”

And if nothing else, if you still can’t see the merit of understanding our shared history and approaching the conversation well-informed; if you’re still humming and hawing about why you should care about this stuff, remember that it’s mandatory. It’s your job as teachers.

In terms of curriculum, I’ll be honest, I don’t fully understand what it means that “we are all treaty people.” I understand that every Canadian citizen falls under this umbrella and they have rights and responsibilities because of it, but I can’t say with absolute certainty what that looks like. I feel the more that we dig into what it means to be treaty people, the more complicated things will become. It is not a simple topic. As Murray Sinclair points out, there is no easy solution; no quick fix. I think that the important thing is to continue to wrestle with the implications of being a treaty person and fleshing that out in daily life as well as in the classroom. I think that through better understanding our shared past and by sitting down to the table to continue to have these discussions between Canadian and Indigenous Peoples we will, in time, begin to fully grasp what it means to be treaty people.

Kumashiro’s critique of the “good” student.

In the second chapter of his work, Kumashiro makes clear the preconceived notions that so many hold. According to “common sense”, being a “good” student is fitting the mould. A “good” student is one who does not rock the boat by challenging the accepted norms of society. They sit quietly, listen intently, learn the content of the prepared lesson plan, and accept it as canon.  A “good” student is one who does not require any extra care or attention from their teacher.

This notion of a “good” student, and the teaching style that flows naturally from this belief, largely benefits students who do not experience learning difficulties. Students who have trouble focusing in a conventional classroom settings or take issue with the manner in which material is being presented are at a tremendous disadvantage. Conversely, students who fit the socially accepted mould of a “good” student benefit greatly from this definition. In the eyes of society, they do not need to change anything about themselves. They are “good” just the way they are.

This “common sense” approach to what makes a “good” student makes it difficult for teachers to see the needs of students whose learning styles do not fit within the societal norms of education. These ideas lead to not only teachers, but parents and society as a whole to believe that these students are not good at school, that they are unintelligent, or have short attention spans. These attitudes tend to stick with these children as they grow up and they believe that they are not smart, are not good at school, and will never amount to anything academically. 

Out with the old, in with the…old: Wayne Au’s take on Standardization and Curriculum

In his article, Teaching under the new Taylorism: high-stakes testing and the standardization of the 21st century curriculum, Wayne Au discusses the historical implementation of scientific management to the education process, as well as the effects of standardized testing in the public schools of the United States. Scientific management, as made popular by the likes of John Franklin Bobbitt in the early twentieth century, focused on eliminating waste and increasing efficiency in the education process in public schools. This scientific management saw a resurgence in the United States through the “No Child Left Behind” policy which was in affect from 2002 until 2015 (note: this policy was replaced in 2015 by the “Every Student Succeeds Act”). In essence, this policy aimed to create a benchmark with which students, educators, and schools could be more effectively and consistently measured, which in turn allowed the Federal government to reward schools that showed positive results and punish those that were found lacking. This high-stakes form of testing invariably led to standardization in the United States public school system.

Au argues that standardization “[objectifies] students by reducing them into decontextualized numerical objects for comparison”; in other words “by reducing students to numbers, standardized testing creates the capacity to view students as things, as quantities apart from their human qualities” (Au, 2011). The problem with standardization is that humans are inherently complex and learning is not easily quantifiable. While it is crucial for schools and educators to be held accountable for what they are actually teaching students, by reducing students to mere numbers they are being robbed of an education that is tailored to meet their individual needs and contexts. This standardization process caused teachers and schools to focus on results and not on the process of education or student comprehension. By tailoring the curriculum to serve these high-stakes exams, students became little more than products and teachers became mere factory workers focused on results. Educators felt that their hands were tied and they complied with this Federally mandated policy in order that their schools would continue receiving funding and so that they would avoid reprimand or termination. Au argues that this resurgence in scientific management has led to a “New Taylorism” within the educational system and is ultimately detrimental to both educators and students.

My plan moving forward is to search out other authors or articles related to the effects of standardization in curriculum. I believe Au’s article gives important insight into the effects of standardization but I intend to find articles by other authors in order to better flesh out the concept of standardization in curriculum. I am particularly interested in the ways standardization has changed after the implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act in 2015.

Reflections on Smith’s Four Models of Curriculum Theory and Practice

In their article Curriculum Theory and Practice, Smith discusses four models of curriculum. Each model has its own strengths and weaknesses as well as implications for the classroom. Smith discusses curriculum as transmitted, product, process, and praxis.

1. Curriculum as a Body of Knowledge to be Transmitted

Curriculum as a body of knowledge to be transmitted resembles an outline or textbook approach. The benefits of the transmission model are that the information and objectives are clearly laid out from the beginning. The transmission model is both comprehensive and logical in organization and presentation to the class.

The limitation of the transmission model is that it is simply a collection of material that needs to be covered in the allotted semester or school year with little regard to students’ interest or ability to comprehend said material. It is a wooden approach to presenting information to the class.

2. Curriculum as Product

Curriculum as product is similar to the transmission model in that it has clearly defined objectives and little concern for learning outside of the planned curriculum. The benefit of curriculum as product is that it consists of clearly defined objectives that are easily evaluated.

These clearly defined objectives can also act as limitations to learning. Learning that takes place outside of these objectives is difficult to evaluate and often is not taken into consideration. This clear checklist approach creates learning “blind spots”. In addition to this, there is limited interaction and exchange between student and teacher in the product model.

3. Curriculum as Process

Curriculum as process can be explained as the interaction between student, teacher, and knowledge or what actually takes place in the classroom. The benefit to curriculum as process is that it is tailored to the specific classroom. Educators focus on interaction and the content and means of evaluating their students evolves in relation to the educator/student relationship. The process model invites examination of results and revamping where deemed necessary.

The limitation of curriculum as process is that this tailored education is not uniform and it is therefore difficult to evaluate. With little to no concern for hidden curriculum or preconceived notions of “proper education” held by students and parents, the curriculum as process does not take into account the particular context of the classroom. This model has the potential to be perhaps the most beneficial or the most detrimental to students as the quality of education depends upon the educator’s ability to craft and implement the curriculum.

4. Curriculum as Praxis

Curriculum as praxis can be described as informed or committed action. The focus is not merely on conveying information to students, but opening a dialogue about the broader implications of what they are learning and putting it into action. Curriculum as praxis is about enacting, embodying, and realizing theories, lessons, or skills. The benefits of curriculum as praxis are that it engages a wide range of individuals and groups within the classroom. When implemented effectively, this model undergoes constant peer review among other educators.

The limitation of curriculum as praxis is that such a strong emphasis on discussion and exchange between educator and students could lead to difficulty in covering the required material for the class. The educator acts more as a facilitator to discussion and, similar to curriculum as process, the quality of education received depends largely on the abilities of the educator. It is possible that the biases and personal opinions of the educator would steer discussion and  create a one-sided learning environment.

Author’s Experience

I would say the vast majority of my elementary education was curriculum as a body of knowledge to be transmitted. For example, I distinctly remember social studies classes in elementary school where the teacher placed a page on the overhead projector and we were required to simply write out the information. He read the page to us and gave us time to copy everything down before moving on to the next page (Granted, my note taking skills weren’t exactly anything to write home about in those days, but looking back it seems like a simple handout and some interaction with the material would have been more beneficial). There was very little discussion in the class and we did not have a say in what material was covered or from whose perspective it was presented. For example, we did a unit on the life of a settler coming to the prairies but we did not look at the same topic from the perspective of the Indigenous inhabitants of the prairies or the changes that this mass influx of settlers had on the wildlife or vegetation of the area. The class was very Euro-centric and strictly regimented.

I would say that my secondary education was a combination of curriculum as product and as a body of knowledge to be transmitted. For example, similarly to my elementary social studies classes, my secondary history classes were very rigid in both the order and the way in which the content was presented. We covered material chronologically from a primarily Euro-centric perspective. The classes were slightly more engaging and allowed for limited individuality in note taking, question asking, and assignments. We were expected to memorize dates, names, and facts relating to the material covered in lectures and our grade depended almost entirely on how well we memorized. There was typically one research essay where we were encouraged to pick a topic and engage with what we discovered during our research. This was about the only area in which we were encouraged to dig deep into historical events and, in a sense, converse with the teacher in a sort of dialogue about questions that we had and areas that we found interesting. In my experience curriculum as product was more beneficial than curriculum as transmission because it gave the students at least some form of outlet to ask questions and actively pursue learning on their own terms.

Common sense is not as common sense as one would think.

In the introduction to their book Against Common Sense: Teaching and Learning Toward Social Justice, Kumashiro discusses The Problem of Common Sense. In the simplest of terms, Kumashiro defines “common sense” as that which everyone should know; those thoughts and practices that are unspoken, commonplace, and assumed. “Common sense” is largely implicit although it varies from nation to nation and even region to region. In terms of “common sense” education in North America, Kumashiro argues that, while well-intentioned, it tends to be repressive, narrow-minded, and controlled by the privileged or politically influential.

Kumashiro argues that in order to teach effectively we must look out for that which is deemed “common sense”. These comfortable and restrictive ideologies and practices can be overcome by creating spaces where all students feel safe, are exposed to a broad range of ideas, are encouraged to think differently about “the other” or those different from themselves, and are encouraged to challenge their preconceived notions, biases, and prejudices. Failure to overcome a “common sense” approach to education will ultimately allow a multitude of students to slip through the cracks.