Thursday, 26 February 2015

Provoking Curriculum

Just attended the 7th Biennial meeting of Provoking Curriculum Studies, a gathering of Canadian curriculum scholars, educators, and researchers. Held this year at UBC, on my home ground, easy to get to. And where this very conference was inaugurated in 2003, when I was very new doctoral student! Back then, I knew I was following the right threads, but I was somewhat dazed and confused as to my path forward in the field of education, so new to me. Let alone, “curriculum studies and theory.” I couldn’t have imagined what I feel now, that curriculum studies is my “home” in education. And judging by the good company I keep in those attending this event.

From the conference “call” (thank you Carl & Erika):

Break out! Break from all safe
comprehensive arrangements
never completely comprehended by
controllers or controlled.
(Margaret Avison)

Instructions for living a life:
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.
(Mary Oliver)

“Acknowledging that curriculum studies are always plural and polyphonic, we invite educators to provoke curriculum studies by attending to the multiple denotations of provoke: to stimulate, arouse, elicit, induce, excite, kindle, generate, instigate, goad, prick, sting, prod, infuriate, madden, ruffle, stir, and inflame.”

“Second, we invite submissions for presentations that ask diverse questions about curriculum studies by engaging with our long traditions of provoking and invoking and evoking. Let’s embrace William F. Pinar’s (2011) invitation in “The Character of Curriculum Studies”: “Perhaps we can allow ourselves to go into temporary exile, to undergo estrangement from what is familiar and everyday and enter a third space, neither home nor abroad, but in-between, a liminal or third space…” (p. 76).

Papers included titles such as:
- Sharpening the Focus: Postcards in Pursuit of Poesis
- “Am I an English Teacher Yet?” Co-Authorship, the Invisible Subject, and Narrative Identity
- Coyote and Raven Paddle Upstream: Rekindling Human, Non-Human, More-Than-Human Intra-Actions in Education

…and many, many inspirited others (not quoting names in the blog). As you can see, these folks are not working for anything to do with instrumentalizing teachers and students through education regimes, or the human-machine-making process of modernity that philosopher Hannah Arendt so aptly warned us of.  

What is curriculum theory? (Pinar, 2004), as my French colleagues ask. A good question. More answerable after immersion in this field at UBC, where many esteemed originators and navigators are. And judging by conference attendees, its grad students are now a corpus of education professors across Canada.

I appreciate the idea of curriculum as what we immediately think it to be: the contents and design of a course of education. But what informs these? Like McLuhan, “the medium is the message.” How do we articulate, know, or experience, the structures that contain education, in all levels and phases, through the “medium” of its holding? How do we grasp, generate, and create, the institutions and classrooms within which we circulate our acts of teaching and learning?

“Sensing pain and trouble of living.” (Arendt)

Here is American, turned to-life-in-Canada, curriculum scholar William F. Pinar, with the re-conceptualization of curriculum. Moving “curriculum” from noun to verb as “currere,” in this etymological movement of "running the course," with book titles such as:
The worldliness of a cosmopolitan education: Passionate lives in public service (2009)
Queering straight teachers (2007)
Understanding curriculum as racial text (1993)

Here also, was Ted T. Aoki, “inspiriter” of Canadian curriculum studies. Infusing his grad students with oration, keen curriculum insight, support of their inquiries, and some kinda orb of transmitted life-energy, that even I am benefactor of – a trace-effect of his wise presence.

Tracing and unraveling what is brought to bear in education, in the everyday lived and hidden curricula of classrooms, from K-12, college, university, and life beyond. The university and life beyond tend to be my areas of inquiry. Who are the teachers and learners in systems of education? It’s this interfacing of school to society to daily life and back again. "Who" is there, and “how are they doing/feeling/thinking/being,” in or out of the system, that keeps me rooted in the kinds of questions that curriculum theory can ask. Arts-based methodologies and life writing grew from this generous field of inquiry, from a series of artful, life-engaged, thoughtful steps and stops along the way.

I am, perhaps, an unlikely curriculum scholar, though now it makes sense. I do not have a K-12 teaching background. But my husband is a teacher, and comes from a teacher family, and my girls are in school. We live and breath this stuff as lived experience. I came into the field of education with a very interdisciplinary background: visual arts, midwifery/birth-work, textiles, women’s studies, feminist studies in spirituality, motherhood studies. I am happy to have landed in this curriculum place, where my views of inspiriting education with social gender justice, embodied/bodied life, ecology, Earth-wisdom, the arts and writing life, the value of story in cultural transformation, have had space to gestate and grow.

I have often thought (felt-thought) how curriculum studies and inquiry, which is little known outside the field of education, sits at the “heart” of the university itself. As if by the very effort of our soulful engagement we keep the disciplines more honest, by virtue of education attempting to look at itself.

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