On Curriculum Development

I love the projects I work on with my friends for many reasons, but from a selfish perspective I think what I love most is what I learn while working on them and then what can be put together from what we’ve learned.

For example, I’m working on a major curriculum project with my friends at Wayside Academy in Ontario. These folks are very insightful and have put together an impressive document.

Statue of Cincinnatus, Cincinnati, OH, 2004, b...

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While reviewing it, I could easily see how the goals, materials, methods, and means of assessment need to be aligned, and, better, how they can be by running each of them through a grid parallel to Adler’s three columns. I modify his “content, concepts, and skills” to “Tradition/content”, “Truth/Ideas”, and “Virtues/skills.”

The thing to do is to begin with Truths/ideas, because thinking is done with and about ideas and its goal is to discover and perceive truth. You can approach truth and ideas from three levels:

  1. The transcendent ideas that should permeate all instruction regardless of age, class, or circumstance. For example, students should be studying or perceiving truth, goodness, beauty, freedom, justice, equity, being, mode, change, glory, honor, immortality, wisdom, virtue, and community. They always are anyway, so we might as well do it on purpose.
  2. The core ideas in a domain of knowledge, from K-12. For example, leadership transitions are a constant problem of every human community, from families, to schools, to states, to empires. Students will study this by necessity if they study an honest history class. So leadership transitions are a core idea in history. In literature, a core idea would be imitation. In science, modes of being and causes of change. And so on.
  3. The core ideas in a domain of knowledge during a certain stage of learning. For example, in second grade many schools study Roman history. The teacher should ask, “What truths/ideas do I want my student to contemplate this year?” Scan the 15 ideas above (level 1) and scan Roman history and ask which might be particularly fruitful. Then find stories that embody them. Justice is, of course, the ubiquitous historical question and can be explored rather easily by asking whether people should have done things: Should Brutus have assassinated Tarquinius Superbus? Should Cincinattus have gone back to his farm? etc.

That way the content will flow from the truths/ideas to be taught and the students will realize that they are being taught things that matter, not contents for a test.

I’ll try to add more on the other columns and activities in the near future.

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