“Curriculum in Abundance”, Kasie Enman, ExEd/Educating For Sustainability

As a part of our Educating for Sustainability course work, Lara Gleason and Lynne Cassidy wrote the following in response to Chapter 11 of Curriculum in Abundance, by David Jardine

What does this mean for our teaching? If we can see that dissecting a curriculum is synonymous with the society’s general sense of disconnectedness and unhealthy lifestyle, then we can remedy this through a more ecologically-friendly approach. “By adding that deep integration makes our lives and the lives of our students more ambiguous and difficult and, correctly understood, this is good news. It does not have the clarity and distinctness and quantifiable accountability of discrete curricular content in the same way that a wilderness area does not have the well-fenced rows of a single crop or the vaguely obscene uniformity or a replanted forest” (175). We see that by following this model, our teaching can be rich and mirror the interconnectedness of the natural world. We understand that in an integrated curriculum the “interconnections they have come upon are real. Its ‘wilderness’ is not disorder but an attentiveness to a deeply inherent order that is not of our own making” (176). There in an inherent wholeness in our world that we must honor and replicate in our education. So when we look upon a pine tree, or curriculum for that matter, we can immediately see its paradox of simplicity and complexity.

These comments, along with an accompanying reflective video that Lara and Lynne created, spurred on a series of connections for me. The two things from their video that really stuck with me were an analogy about a pine tree representing a great abundance of learning opportunities and a description of integrated curriculum as “wild”…

There is so much math, art, language, science, history (the list could go on) that can be inspired by a pine tree. Or, for that matter, by a blade or grass or an ant or that river that was flowing behind you in your video (again, the list is infinite here). If there is one repeating theme throughout Curriculum in Abundance it’s that there is an abundance of potential for all kinds of learning in everything around us. It makes me think of themed charter schools. My sister works with maritime-based charter school called the Paul Cuffee School. Their entire curriculum is centered around a maritime theme. Each subject area is linked to and tied together by this common theme. There is no shortage of opportunities for teaching math, the sciences, social studies, the arts, languages, etc. within this theme. When I think about this, I am both reassured and lost. It tells me that place-based education is a rich and doable way to teach. But there is so much richness in so many things around us that I don’t know where to start or stop, how to share this in a way that is manageable in our culture, how to do this well and sustainably.

The anthropologist in me (sorry, it was my undergrad major) can’t help but be frustrated by the knowledge that cultures from Native Americans (http://www.bama.ua.edu/~joshua/archive/aug06/Nathan%20Sherrer.pdf) to native Africans exist(ed) that have figured out this basic truth of life and sustainability, but are relentlessly stifled by the influence of a growing western culture. Why are these cultures, the models of sustainability with all their deep wisdom, the one’s being killed off? Why has western culture in all it’s unsustainability been able to take over? Shouldn’t there have been some kind of feedback loop shutting down the ways of industrialization? Maybe that’s what we are seeing now with the dwindling resources and climate change. Maybe the nature of this complex system of human cultures and human choices is that it will/needs to keep going until it reaches the point of bifurcation. It’s interesting, just last night while at my neighborhood’s monthly “girls night out potluck” a similar subject came up about how much our culture has changed due to the discovery of oil. Rachel Smolker, (biologist/author/wife of Berndt Heinrich/neighbor of mine – how’s that for a bio, yes I have some very cool neighbors), said something along the lines of how we are going to have to go back to how things were. She sarcastically added on, “It’s alright, I like the Stone Age.” Seriously though, something has to give.

All of this talk of systems thinking is bringing me back to Tom Wessel’s course and his book, The Myth of Progress. Native cultures, and pretty much every plant and animal organizm in nature is right in front of us with the lessons we need to learn. Somehow we have gotten away from the truth that education, culture, our world is a complex system. Somehow we’ve been convinced that the world can be made linear, predictable, controlled to meet our every human desire without any thought of all the other parts of the system. Teachers have been convinced that curriculum needs to be linear, predictable, and controlled. But “the bulk of the systems we see and interact with don’t function in this way… systems relating to progress – social, political, economic, environmental [and, I would add, educational] – are complex, and as such can’t be controlled in this manner. In fact, the more we attempt to control them, as the fall of Communism points out, the more we tend to force the system, through positive feedback, into an entirely new mode of operation. Control is a reality in a linear system, but in a complex system it’s simply a myth.” (Wessels, p.20-21

So how do we kick this necessary paradigm shift into action? Baby steps, massive bifurcation? I still don’t have all the answers, neither does Jardine, or Wessels, but I think the point here is that we need to stop thinking linearly, start thinking about the whole, the complexity, the “wildness” of it all. These are good things. This world around us is a master of sustainability. Wiser than any human. Let’s pay attention.

Submitted by Kasie Enman

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One Response to “Curriculum in Abundance”, Kasie Enman, ExEd/Educating For Sustainability

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