The Oxford Dictionary offers the definition of the word ‘curriculum’ as the subjects comprising a course of study in a school or college.
Have you ever wondered what this word means? Where does it come from? Who creates a curriculum? Why do we need one?
When I first asked myself this question, I thought I understood what it meant. Surely curriculum is a way of determining the worth and value of each subject and skill taught, from a larger range of learning opportunities.
My confidence wavered slightly as I started to consider the many subjects I had learned about in school (long division, how to care for a pretend infant egg, writing acrostics, playing the recorder, practising the high jump, lines and lines of joined up writing, singing hymns and dissecting a frog) and considered how little value any of these experiences now had in relation to the everyday life I was now living.
So if the curriculum is not all about equipping you with the skills for adult life, what is it doing?
Some might say it is the building blocks for later learning. But why can’t we just learn the good stuff straight away? Why can’t we specialise in what we are good at and not worry so much about the stuff we have zero skills or interest in?
Why force the non athletic children to keep running long distance, or the child with a love of black and white logic to stare at a blank page in a music lesson desperately trying to compose something on an instrument they have no love for. Does it produce more ‘well rounded’ learners after a few years? Or are these activities acting as time fillers and putting people off learning all together.
If we allow ourselves to think back to what all these moments felt like for us at school. I remember loving science at the age of five, I was thirsty for knowledge, needing to know how everything worked, why everything around me happened, and most importantly how it all interlinked.
Being stuck in years of school chemistry labs, being told to set fire to things and memorise the periodic table for giggles sucked all that enthusiasm out of me. I have proudly labelled myself someone who ‘just doesn’t get science’ for years. Yet the freedom to learn what I like in adult life has offered a new chance to rekindle my inquisitive approach to the universe. Delving into topics such as quantum mechanics or string theory. The chance to feel that buzz of excitement again listening to a talk by Brian Cox about the intricate workings of the solar system. If only I had been allowed to learn about these subjects at school, are they not science? How is it possible to place more value on one subject to the next?
Who actually writes our National Curriculum? If you attempt to find out as an interested parent, it appears no-one is stepping forward to claim responsibility. A working document that controls what goes on daily for every school, teacher and pupil accross the UK. Yet the process of how it is created is a complete mystery.
Under pressure in 2012 after a request from the freedom of information act, the government published a list of around 100 individuals responsible for changing the National Curriculum that year. (As highlighted by Mansell in the Guardian Newspaper, 2012) It turned out that a number of the policitians involved also happened to own national companies that were responsible for selling textbooks and learning resources to schools. Just one of these resource packs can cost a school around £3000 of tax payers money.
Of course a big learning institute may need a way to standardise learning and track performance, the curriculum offers a framework for this. But is it really best practice to allow the people earning incomes out of the system to be the ones dictating what is included in the framework? The national curriculum is enforced by law, schools therefore are obliged to buy resource packs that best serve the curriculum just to pass offstead scrutiny and get a good school grading.
In the International Handbook of Curriculum Research (2013) Pinar summarises that ‘understanding curriculum…means to understand the cultural construction of the child and the future citizen’.
Implementing a National Curriculum is a good way to ensure a government’s economic stability by educating working class people to fit the jobs that are the most commercially viable options for the overall benefit and prosperity of society. It does not make sense for government to equip people with the skills to support entrepreneurialism, how to grow their own food, build their own renewable energy heating system or to run their own finances without getting into debt. Because big companies make a lot of money out of us not knowing how to do these things.
Society as a whole makes more money if you are equipped with the skills for working behind the till at a large supermarket chain whilst happily aiming for the world of middle management.
The curriculum does not value learning skills that could make a difference to your personal quality of life. If you want to learn how to build your own house and not pay the builders, you will have to teach yourself.
It’s also kind of handy for society if a citizen has very limited skills and knowledge in self sufficiency. Then people are forced to go out to work to buy the things they need to survive. This generates a regular income to boost the income tax pot, spend at the supermarket, pay off a mortgage and set up regular direct debits to the energy supplier. It’s a great model for a government focused on accumulating wealth and tax revenues.
So if you are educating at home and ever have pangs of parental guilt about not following the national curriculum, don’t! I’m not saying every topic it covers should be avoided, if your child is a maths whiz and is inspired by equations and trigonometry or is in love with the periodic table then enjoy them, support their interests.
Other than that, be brave, give you and your child the freedom to answer their own questions and follow their heart felt curiosity. Consider what their individual curriculum would look like. Learn anything and everything about the world that has value to them. You will end up covering a great many more subjects than the National Curriculum has to offer.
Permit yourself the freedom to be mindful about what makes most sense for your child as an individual not merely as a future citizen of society. Enjoy your learning!