61. Wordsmithing and Curricular Centrality

Ken brought up an interesting point. Like many public-school educators, he was originally convinced that curriculum should concentrate more on STEM.

Reasons for that seem obvious. Our world is more influenced by science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

STEM has become pervasive as a driver for everything else in the curriculum. It seems to dominate the meaning of scholarship. But Ken and others working on the curriculum are beginning to rethink that bias.

STEM has risen to the top of the conversation for many reasons. Those subjects are tangible and critical to the growth of a 21st Century economy. They are academically challenging and a prerequisite to post-secondary programs. They prepare our nation’s inventors, builders, and technical problem solvers.

Ken still accepts and appreciates that position. He supports his district’s efforts to move in such a direction. To the extent it makes sense.

It makes sense to students with the innate ability to build their interest and capacity — to become contributors and leaders in science and technology.

It also makes sense in helping everyone benefit from scientific research and technological development. In terms of having richer and more meaningful lives. A kind of Disneyesque Imagineering. Communicated to everyone as ways to make their lives more enjoyable.

But Ken’s thinking is changing because of larger concerns:

  • governance,
  • social order,
  • family strength,
  • individual contentment,
  • health and wellness,
  • cultural equity, and
  • mutual understanding and acceptance.

Ken is beginning to see an erosion of social and cultural relationships. Our inability to effectively communicate with each other. Reasoned debate has morphed into biased argument. Helpful convictions have become ironclad and unchanging opinions. Social problem solving is replaced with an unbending acceptance of unilateral decision-making.

Ken knows that the four elements of STEM can disintegrate if scientists adamantly disagree with other scientists. If technical specialists let competitive barriers separate them. If engineers do not work and communicate with each other in teams. If mathematicians confine their logic to numbers and formulas, instead of society’s welfare.

Real learning is the product of both cognitive and emotional engagement. A kind of connectedness that transforms us. Even transcends our mundane existence into a panoply of possibilities.

A foundation that mitigates against feelings of isolation, loneliness, despair, and worthlessness.

As the story evolves, Ken’s background as a social studies teacher and coach helps him understand the power of engagement. His students and team members improved only when they felt engaged. When they acted on that feeling.

Like Myra, the elementary school principal, Ken appreciates the philosophy of C.S. Lewis. Like Lewis, he believed in the power of connecting imagination with rationality.

He used it in his coaching when he told players to imagine what winning looks like and how it happens.

In teaching history when he asked students to imagine what it would have been like to be born in the early 20th Century’s age of invention.

In teaching government, by contrasting argument with reasoned debate as the basis of a true and lasting democracy. 

Debate is a rational examination of two sides of an issue, using both researched data and the convincing power of imagination. It is a means of communication that enlightens without offending.

Inventing ideas in the realm of logic.

Barbara Perpetuates Discussion on the Use of the High Achievement Unit Outcome

At the last SAC meeting Ken said, “I understand the importance of communication as central to much of everything else we teach.”

I asked him to elaborate on that comment. He expanded on his feelings about the place of STEM in our curriculum. Why it is only important in the context of how well human beings communicate.

He spoke about the importance of both cognitive and emotional engagement as the basis of all real learning. Of how we need to connect rationality with imagination if we are to fully grasp any subject to the point of long-term retention. To the point our outlook and behaviors are significantly affected.

Ken was convincing. And open to hearing other points of view.

At first no one had more to offer. Everyone seemed to agree.

But special education teacher Joan expanded on Ken’s points. “What we are talking about is a high achievement unit outcome for all our students to accomplish over time. Most of my students will need more time than others.

“The key to making that process work effectively is that we teachers must be different than before. We must transform our thinking as repositories of knowledge to being seekers and students ourselves.

“And that demeanor needs to be evident all the time. Not as a demonstration of ignorance but rather a thoughtful questioning.”

Third grade teacher Jackie seemed perplexed. “My problem with this kind of discussion is that some of us are influenced by what we came to believe school is when we were students. We are teachers because we bought into that way of doing things.

“I liked to play ‘teacher’ as a child and concluded that learning is to do what is expected. What pleased adults.

“It was expected I would do well on pencil and paper tests, or in reciting back what was required.

“I learned to do that very well. And felt sorry for those around me who would not or could not do the same thing.

“My goal as a teacher has been to make my students be like me. Serious about performing properly. Staying on track. Pleasing teachers who help me meet prescribed learning objectives.

“To me, communicating was just meeting expectations. Imagination had boundaries. Creativity involved staying inside the lines. Competition of any kind was simply a matter of who best complied with the rules or fundamentals. Whether it involved games or anything else in life.

“I am not sure I can break out of that mold, even if I wanted to. Call it a security blanket if you wish. But I get queasy when I think about it.

“Maybe development of a curriculum that centers on the effectiveness of communication will help me make the transition. I hope so.

“But right now, my emotions are tied in knots just thinking about leaving this cocoon in which I have been living. To venture into a place that is unknown and scary.”

Jackie was not the only teacher with those feelings. To a certain extent all of us did. That issue needed further consideration.

©2022 Stu Ervay – All Rights Reserved

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