#Rhizo15: The Season of our (Dis)Content

Title page of Galileo's Dialogue, image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

One part of #rhizo15 that I’m enjoying is the attention being paid to terms whose meanings I may often take for granted in my daily practice.

Content is a good example of this.  When I read Dave Cormier’s post, the word suggested connotations of banking education, of “filling a pail,” and of coercive systems that alienate, rather than educate, students.

On Twitter, in response to a question from Will Richardson, I referred to this as “content,” or content-with-quotes.  I’m going to amend this to content-in-quotes to be more precise; to be even more precise, I offer a definition of content-in-quotes as “curriculum approved by those in power.”

This led me to conclude that “non-content” would be everything that’s outside this approved curriculum.

This ties into the idea of learning objectives, which tend to be very narrowly defined in K-12 public schools, even in this bold new era of Common Core.  Granted, I would argue that the shift to Common Core, at least in California and at least in English Language Arts, is an improvement, because our previous state standards were disastrously narrow and shallow. However, the fact remains that our community is not determining what students should learn; Policy-Makers From Far Away are in charge of that.

As a result, teaching outside this (still) narrow set of objectives can feel like committing heresy.  The standards, whether they be the old, absurd California standards or the somewhat-more-enlightened Common Core, create a kind of strict orthodoxy that can be at odds with what we, as practitioners, know to be true.

Not only is this anti-democratic, it puts a chill on innovation:  If classroom Galileos have new ideas that can improve our understanding and enlarge our world, they run the risk of being, if not persecuted by the Inquisition, at least pressured into returning into the confines of this standards-based orthodoxy.

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One thought on “#Rhizo15: The Season of our (Dis)Content

  1. Right. The k-12 landscape is of course different from the Univ landscape, though in some ways there are all kinds of checks n balances on higher ed that lead to similar… but yes, the policy-makers deciding content and outcomes is already problematic as you say. And then we get to the classroom and whatever control the teacher has… and then how much room they have and willingness to negotiate content and process with students and maybe even community beyond the class like parents and others… I know I do much less of this when I teach undergrads than when I teach grads, so I imagine it’s even harder with K-12…

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