A curriculum doesn’t change for particular students if it’s a curriculum. That is its strength and its weakness.

Up at 5:15, a compromise between 5 yesterday and 5:30 normal. I’ve only got three or so things—papers—left to read. Lord willing, it’ll all be done fine. …

4-5 [period] kids [Creative Writing students] in their responses (read those last night) had lots of good things to say about how much they’ve changed in this class—lots of them said they used to not know … they would not know what to write about, sit and stare. Now they freewrite and ideas come to them—good. (My silly comments like “good” and “I’m glad.”) I wonder what impact that’ll have on the students going forward—will they really use freewriting in future writing projects? I guess it’s really up to them. I almost wrote “I hope so,” but I’m not even sure I ought to say that. I’ve given them this process—well, I’ve explained a writing process, one approach (my approach), to them about as well as I can at this point in time, and maybe that’s all I get paid for, maybe that’s all a class can do. If they use it, if it suits them, that isn’t up to me and maybe isn’t up to them either. This process likely suits some people better than others—no idea, no process, can suit every single person, right? And so it’s not really a good/bad issue whether these kids use freewriting in the future or not. Even L__ C__ wrote that every person has their own writing style.

And what A__ G__ said about curricula—who cares what curriculum says; have kids read books they like. This is exactly the problem with the whole idea of a curriculum—it exists independently of the specific person and her needs and interests. In fact, the purpose of a curriculum is to stand apart from specific students, to be resistant to changing because of the needs of individual students. A curriculum doesn’t change for particular students if it’s a curriculum. And yet, that is its strength/value and its weakness—its independence from the lives and needs and interests of particular students.

See, I know I’ve written things like this before about a curriculum, maybe not quite in the same way. It’s like the conventional wisdom about self-educating, being “self-taught,” as they usually say, which is funny, because if anybody can be self-taught at all, it sorta invalidates the need for specialized “teachers”—those who teach. You mostly teach yourself anyway, or entirely—what can any outsider do but explain questions in various ways? But the line on self-taught [people] is that they can be deep learners, learn in depth, but not usually in the breadth that “curricular learners” are. They get the breadth and the emphasis … that is the conventional mainstream view of most scholars in that discipline, whereas being self-taught, you might leave out/skip over significant (or what others deem significant parts) …

But see, maybe that’s sorta a partial truth, because if certain ideas or events in history (if history’s the discipline you’re studying ) are truly central, then nobody could escape them. The self-taught would keep seeing references to these central events/ideas and, if at all curious, which is the strength of being self-taught anyway, would follow up on those references. If you kept seeing references to Greeks and Romans in your study [of history starting in] year 1066, you’d go back and see how they influenced the results—history of civilization. All the known history conditions the history that follows it. But early in history—”pre-history,” nobody knows. It’s like we all began well into the song already. We don’t hear the first notes ending the silence. We instead hear the notes already, faintly, grow loud enough to rise to our attention and observation—a “fade-in” to the story of humanity—the history. And so, in an sense, we’re all just beginning en medias res.

And then I think about Ted Sizer and his idea about how building a curriculum is just a grad-school experience, anyway. Like the critics picking 10 best films of the year last night on Terry Gross’s “Fresh Air,” the critic’s purpose is to be controversial—that’s the only way he/she is interesting, is to make unusual picks and defend them. Anybody can pick top 10 and the critic sees more films than the rest of us. It’s only because he picks unusual picks and defends them that we listen. If he picked all blockbusters, we wouldn’t care, anyway. And so there’s some of that aspect in curriculum design—make interesting picks, stake out an argument that X & Y topics are more central to the study of chemistry (or whatever discipline) than are topics J & K.

[From journal of Weds., 21 Dec. 2005, 5:45  a.m., Journal 61, page 133-7]

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