Make The Curriculum Relevant: Consider Steps To Activism
Written By Sherry Ramrattan Smith
Curriculum emerges from ideas about what should be taught and learned in our schools. According to Westbury (2008), “curriculum is often conceived as an authoritative prescriptive course of study used by a system of schools and is usually represented as a provincial standard.” Aoki (1993) refers to mandated guidelines, lessons, and units of study as “curriculum-as-plan.” But how do prescriptive courses of study, guidelines, and lessons make their way to becoming relevant to our lives?
There are key concepts and strategies that can lead us to transform “curriculum-as-plan” to “curriculum-as-lived.” Aoki (1986) explains that “curriculum-as-lived” acknowledges sociocultural, political, and economic influences upon individuals. Consider becoming more aware as step one.
Some of us live our lives within a limited circle of friends and colleagues and this can constrict our lenses for viewing the world. As we become aware of our subjective positioning – aspects of our identities – and the wide variety in our lived experiences, we begin to see that people have differing needs and interests. For example, a teacher or student at school may not need a ramp to get to class, however, another teacher or student may have that need. At the same school we could find that another colleague who does not have brown skin is very aware that racial stereotyping does occur and raises such issues in her class discussions.
We build our understanding of one another by paying attention to our interactions with others and using what we learn to improve our base of knowledge. One strategy to becoming more aware is to seek out experiences outside of our own – through conversations, research, or professional development activities. Awareness is like shifting a curtain to see something awesome and new on the other side. However, one problematic aspect of becoming aware is that we often do not know what to do with the information we gain.
Next, consider learning more about specific topics and issues. Engagement can help to alleviate some of the distress that may arise from becoming aware of issues that are unfamiliar. For example, students may learn that clean drinking water is not accessible to some communities. Their shock and anger to such unfairness leads them to search out more information. Students could begin to link with community groups and organizations that have more information to share. They may be able to access research papers, guest speakers, or watch television news clips that show people from some of the communities talking about how not having clean water affects their lives. Engagement involves a personal effort and commitment to building one’s knowledge. The personal effort towards learning more and the commitment to seek out additional information can lead to addressing a particular injustice.
An action to challenge or change an injustice is a natural next step. An activist action is often a common next step. Students in a class may decide to hold a series of assemblies to share what they have learned and to build awareness and engagement within the larger school community. Using the same example of unclean water, a school community may decide to raise funds to send out bottled water as a short term solution. Additionally, students may go even further. They could write letters to local politicians to bring greater attention to the unfairness of access to clean water and the hardships that arise from having to live without such a basic need. Strong, collaborative activism can lead to lobbying governing political parties to provide clean water to communities in need.
Relevancy of the curriculum comes from finding ways to bring the realities of our lives to what we teach and learn. Consider three steps to curriculum relevancy: awareness, engagement, and activism.
Aoki, T. (1986). Address to members of the Canadian Association for Curriculum Studies. CSSE News, 13(3), 2-11.
Aoki, T. (1993). Legitimating a lived curriculum: Towards a curricular landscape of multiplicity. Journal of Curriculum and Supervision, 8(3), 255-268.
Westbury, I. (2008). Making curricula: Why do states make curricula, and how. In F. M.
Connelly (Ed.). The sage handbook of curriculum and instruction (pp. 45-65). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Author’s Bio: Sherry Ramrattan Smith Ph.D. is a respected speaker and children’s author in the areas of identity and social justice, equity and inclusion, and curriculum writing. As a teacher, workshop presenter, and curriculum consultant, Sherry has spent over 30 plus years as an advocate and activist for social justice and equity issues.