Curriculum Doesn’t Matter: Doing Something Very Different in Schools

Curriculum doesn’t matter. In the traditional sense, It’s a twentieth century idea that failed back then and largely continues to fail today.

In a recent blog post, education futurist and advocate for the Learning Revolution, Steve Hargadon describes how he likes to use a particular activity when he speaks to large groups. Inviting them to play Rock-Paper-Scissors with each other, he asks the losers to sit while the winners remain standing. The effect he describes is fascinating:

“You can see by the smiles on the faces of the winners that being the winners, even of this dumb game, means something. Those in any circumstance lucky enough to be left standing will always believe that they deserve to be there, even when it has nothing to do with skill or industry. “The rest of you,” I say to all those who had to sit down, “are the losers.” Most people get where I am going at this point. They are not in any way at this moment, except by pure chance, losers. They are just as likely to be good, smart, thoughtful people. But the game of chance actually makes them feel badly, and the label of loser certainly does.”

Hargadon’s simple and compelling worldview is that if we are truly serious about educating our young people, we would be doing something very different in schools. What many of our educational institutions are achieving, he suggests, is not unlike that described in the scenario I have just quoted. While Hargadon is a technology advocate, he does not see the digital landscape alone as a panacea for change. The greater imperative, he contends, is to meet, “the different needs of every student, and … to help each one become personally competent as a learner and find productive things to do in life.” Technology can take us closer to realising this goal, but it is not of itself the solution.

As Luba Vangelova has observed, Hargadon sees connecting people to each other as the key to changing schools: “As individuals, families and communities, we need to reclaim the conversation around learning, and to do so in such a way as to recognize the inherent worth and value of every student, with the ultimate goal of helping them become self-directed and agents of their own learning.”

Hargadon cautions against schools looking for a single model or program as the way forward for so-called future learning. Schools, he believes, should be about the individual needs of our students, so we should avoid the canned solution, the vagaries of which pose as many questions as answers when we attempt to shoehorn our students into a system. So, with all that we hear, read, think, and believe … how about a school in which each student:

  • Constructs their main learning around an issue or passion that inspires them
  • Connects with an expert in an online context to learn more about this idea
  • Proposes a solution, innovation or movement that will improve this particular field
  • Publishes – in some capacity – the results of this work to an authentic audience
  • Is primarily assessed only on this work
  • Is supported in this work by interdisciplinary teams
  • Demonstrates an active engagement with the Arts, Wellness and Communication

The above scenario presupposes that schools will be brave enough to abandon traditional grading systems, the nonsense of credits, bell schedules, discrete subjects; knowledge, age, and year content linearity. While the core values and skills of our educational programs would be retained and almost certainly deepened, they would no longer be “delivered” … they would be absorbed through the goal of achieving some fulfilling and exciting learning explorations. Students would share in the management of their own learning, their own digital presence, their own progress towards “graduation” (and maybe this archaic concept will also be disposed of).

Traditional schooling will not go away. It is ingrained in who we are. But there is a more radical alternative that is imminent. The game of chance makes losers of us all.