Saturday, March 24, 2012

Running the Course

I give myself 30 minutes every weekday morning for newspaper headlines and computer time.  About a week ago, an article by Grant Wiggins, the guru of educational curriculum, stopped me in my tracks.  When the leading voice in American education curriculum writes an article entitled "Everything you know about curriculum may be wrong," you know you better buckle up.

For those of us in music, the arts, physical education, tech ed, and the many other subjects that apply the core curriculum, we struggle whenever a new curriculum initiative is introduced.  For too long, the question we have asked ourselves has been, "How do we fit music/PE/art/etc. into this model?" when the question always should have been "How do our performances exemplify all that is right about curriculum?"  In reference to athletics, Wiggins says, "the game is the curriculum; the game is the teacher ... Knowledge about the game is secondary."  

The article opens with some transformational events in history - Copernicus's idea that the Earth revolves around the Sun and Einstein's idea that the speed of light, not time, is the constant.  Likewise revolutionary, Wiggins proposes "action, not knowledge, as the essence of an education".  Knowledge, Understanding, Transfer ... all serve a greater master - to move a student and humanity to action.  

The etymology of the word "curriculum" means a running course, like a race track for a chariot race.  We want students to be well-rounded and well-founded so they can run the course of life (curriculum vitae) successfully.  But this is scary for us as educators - we do not know what kind of action a student may take or what kind of action may be needed in the future.  Did anyone know what kind of action Michelangelo, Beethoven, or Einstein would take?  It is hard enough to equip students with knowledge to take them into the future - how do we prepare them for action?  By bringing the future into our classrooms now - by taking action now - by teaching them to act now on the knowledge they construct.

We live in a second renaissance.  Instead of a printing press, we have the internet.  How will we use knowledge of the past to spur students into future action?  For those of us who are music educators, we teach students to take action through music, since every piece of music is a problem to be solved and every performance is an action to be taken.  Taking action and performing is about creating something new - something never heard or seen before.  Performance is the curriculum; performance is the teacher.

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