Thursday, August 19, 2010

Stenhouse on Curriculum

As the new school year begins, I picked up my old copy of "An Introduction to Curriculum Research and Development," by the Scottish educational thinker and teacher Lawrence Stenhouse (1975), and found some good old thoughts about curriculum.

Stenhouse saw curriculum as both what a school (or teacher) intends to do, and what it actually does.  He takes it as given that there will always be a gap between intent and delivery, so understanding a given curriculum requires awareness of both what we're setting out to do and what we're actually doing. He thought teachers should be studying this, both on their own and together. 

Stenhouse saw curriculum as composed of three broad domains:
-- content (information to be learned, which you can pre-specify and test with a multiple choice test),
--skills (recognizing letters and words, writing a three-paragraph essay, solving mathematical problems, which you can also pre-specify),
--knowledge (using what you've learned to solve problems or meet challenges in some unexpected way that can't be fully prespecified; an essay question at it's best, a scientific, artistic or community project).

He thought that educational thinking and theory often fell short by confusing content and skills, which can be prespecified, with knowledge, which cannot. He saw the teacher as being at the center of education, contrary to the trend to see teachers as deliverers of pre-packaged curricula.

35 years after his "Introduction to Curriculum Research and Development," Stenhouse's thinking holds up very well indeed. The only substantial addition that I'd suggest is about the way teaching methods relate to the more recent knowledge about learning and the brain; for example, strategies designed to engage the left and right hemisphere, frontal lobes and attention, and the domain of social-emotional learning (individual and group strategies, etc.).

In these times, when education is so often about making sure that children can simply read and define words, do math, or pass pre-specified tests at such and such a level, Stenhouse can help us to remember that there are domains of education that connect with potentialities of human nature that lie far beyond these meager models of what learning and knowledge are about.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Latent Tension

"Dorothy" comments: "My dad came to visit and we had a pretty good time, but there was all this latent tension that he never noticed."

Dr. Einhorn comments: The implications that there is latent tension sometimes and not others, or that when there is latent tension we usually discuss it, are interesting, because they don't seem to reflect reality very well. It seems to me that there's always latent tension, or almost always, and we are always mostly ignoring it. Our lives and relationships are always moving, changing, bumping into one another, influencing each other. We are all--individuals, families, relationship networks of various kinds--part of this vast Darwinian humanity that is evolving, with huge fits and starts (wars, economic bubbles and crashes, dislocations of various kinds) into a planetary culture. Think of all the kinds of tension there are: status/authority, closeness/intimacy, economic, sexual, religious/spiritual (though I wonder if there can be real conflict once we are actually in the realm of the spiritual), etc. Not to mention the "latent tensions" within our own minds, between various impulses, urges, thoughts, feelings, values, allegiances, states, etc. These "latent tensions: are always going on; it's part of the environment that we live in. The questions that interest me are, which parts of the latent tensions going on at any particular time and in any particular relationships do we want to give attention to, and how do we want to do that. And, of course, that brings in the questions of how perceptive we are, how honest we are, and how much we are prepared to risk in being honest.

A lot of therapeutic work focuses on latent tension in the life of the client. It can also usefully focus on latent tensions in the relationship between client and therapist, if the therapist can use that skillfully and the client can enter into that level of dialog about their relationship.

A lot of art is about expressing the interaction between latent tensions in some way, especially (it seems to me) poetry and poetic musical lyrics, and storytelling in its various forms (novels, plays, etc.). Music itself is a way of creating harmony out of elements that are in a tension relationship, both in the music that is played and also in the instruments that make it. I remember the guitar being described as something that can hardly exist because all of its elements are in a state of tension with one another, the wood trying to collapse, the strings trying reduce their stretch tension. And of course that's what makes the beauty of the sound, when the tensions are just right and a harmony is created.

Rumi talks about the way that things apparently opposed can be working together, as in the handclap being created by the apparent "opposition" of the two hands, which we might see as the "tension between" them. The movement of the two hands through the air might seem "latent" in slo-mo, until they met one another and produced the clap.

It generally takes a lot of self-work to be able to talk about the latent tensions in any relationship, because the ability doesn't come naturally. You have to start the conversation, and then you have to stay in it, according to how the other person responds. Here, Dorothy doesn't say that she tried to raise any issues with her dad, although noticing them herself was a start. The implication is that he should have taken the initiative to raise issues with her, in which case I wonder if their pattern is that he's done that in the past, or perhaps that she wishes he had but he mostly hasn't. If she wants to take the risk of raising some issues involving latent tension with her dad, she'll have the opportunity to see what might come of that. It does take a certain amount of courage.