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What it means to learn and unintentional curricula

marian.bechtel's picture

I really enjoyed reading "Against Common Sense." I though Kumashiro had a lot of great ideas, and I actually ended up reading through the ending chapters as well on the natural sciences and mathematics, because it related so well to the things I'm particularly interested in. Two general ideas that really stuck out to me in the book were the diagrams in Chapter 2 on what it means to learn, and the discussion on uninentional curricula. I really like the diagrams, because although oversimplified, I'm a huge fan of visuals and I thought it was a great visual representation of the process of re-learning how to teach in anti-oppressive ways and re-shaping our views, as teachers and students, on the purpose and process of education itself. I loved that the last visual ended up showing a glass that is more full, but of completely different, upsetting material, and had a frowny face for discomfort. Looking at the aspects of my education that I have valued the most over the years (including academic and non-academic lessons), this feels pretty accurate. When I think about the most important things I've learned over my life, particularly over the last couple years, it's not necessarily the "raw knowledge," but rather the ways I've learned to question everything I see and encounter (including questioning my own education and place in academia), how to use those inquiries to reflect on myself and how I may have been ignorant or wrong, and what I can do to be a better person - none of those things are necessarily "comfortable" things to do, but I value my ability to do that and ask those uncomfortable questions and self-reflect more than anything else in my education. However, that's not to say that knowledge is not valuable - in fact knowledge is incredibly valuable, particularly as context for learning how to ask questions about ourselves and our world today. I think what I take from all of this, is that going forward as a teacher, it is important to, yes, increase students' knowledge (provide context), but then to take it the next step and teach students to always question that knowledge. Knowledge itself is a slippery matter, because it is always shifting and changing depending on new findings and different perspectives, and students should learn to recognize that.

I also was intrigued by Kumashiro's discussion on unintentional curricula, and how we truly have no control over how students interpret what we present. That is something to keep in mind going forward as a teacher, because it makes everything we do as teachers so much harder and so much more important. It means that we must truly analyze our own behavior and how our own experiences/lenses affect not just what and how we teach, but also simply how we interact with students and how we are present in the classroom. As a teacher, you are not just teaching when you're standing in front of the class lecturing - you're a teacher every moment of every day you are with a student, and every small action or word or intonation of the voice is a teaching moment and is an opportunity for a student to interpret your actions, in good or bad ways. This does make the task of teaching seem daunting and tedious, but I liked Kumashiro's positive spin on all of this - that it simply means we must radically rethink what it means to teach, and to make visible those hidden lessons and the different lenses through which students analyze them. It means we need to embrace the discomfort and use it as a tool for learning.