Is curriculum sacred?

Bird Droppings May 20, 2023
Is curriculum sacred?

My wife and I have been talking about taking a few days hiatus to head to the South Carolina coast with no schedule and little baggage. Just a spur-of-the-moment trip. I was thinking about our last crazy trip, which included a nursery or two, tourist traps, museums, and good food. As I sit here thinking so often, even a minuscule idea will trigger a significant memory.

We joke about the rabbits around our yard at our house. My wife continually mentions the book Watership Downs when addressing the bold creatures. Lately more squirrels and chipmunks than rabbits, interestingly enough. A few days ago, I was heading to the front door when a young rabbit was standing at the door. The rabbit had no sales flyers or sample cases, so I am sure it was not a traveling sales bunny. But as I pondered, and I did get photos of our door-tapping rabbit, I thought back to one of my earlier undergraduate experiences. I had a professor in 1969 at Eastern College in St. David’s, Pennsylvania, Dr. Tony Campolo; he was, and last I checked, still a professor of sociology. He has impacted me more in the years since I sat in his class, and it was not because he was not a great professor, for he was, but it has been in reading and pondering his books since.

“While the would-be spiritual oracles fail to understand about our ‘advanced’ capitalist social system that the means have been devised to make spiritual realities somewhat unreal to us. More accurately, ways have been found in our consumer-oriented society to reduce spiritual hungers to emotions that can be gratified by purchasing the things sold to us through the mass media.” Dr. Tony Campolo

It is not just church-related spiritual realities Dr. Campolo is talking about here; it is the just of who we are, that inner being getting to know where we are in the world and why. Dr. Campolo was a theologian first and often would use Greek as he taught periodically to make a point.

“Koinonia (fellowship) supposedly can be generated simply by drinking the right beer,” Dr. Tony Campolo

As I have been reading in some curriculum texts, it is an interdisciplinary and all-encompassing, lived-in-total undertaking. The curriculum is not just the linear understanding of a schoolroom and class XYZ. Seeing curriculum as the tracks my life’s train is riding on is perhaps a metaphorical stretch at best, yet it is so in the true sense of understanding.

“It is through a concern with problems as they are relating to mankind at large that it may be possible to create the type of understanding that will enable man to use with wisdom those tools which have made this century the most promising and the most perilous he has ever known.” Elliot Eisner

For many years, I have embraced a different understanding of the world within myself. In Native American culture, all is sacred, every leaf, twig, rock, animal, and human being.

“It was a quote from Krishnamurti that said – he was talking about education being the understanding of the self, and he said, ‘For it is each of us the whole of existence is gathered.’” K. Kesson

Spirituality is simply walking out the door to a brilliant sunrise or full moon as it inspires and fulfills that within me. I similarly see curriculum as one of the sacredness of spirituality and fulfillment more than a curriculum map on a wall next to the day’s essential question. As I read curriculum theorists, this group brings back the sacredness of learning, understanding, and perhaps returning to a culture lost while being found.

“The Community of truth, the grace of things, the transcendent subject, the “secret” that “sits in the middle and knows” – these images emerge, for me, from my experience of reality as sacred and of the sacred as real. Others may arrive at similar understandings from different starting points. But I believe that knowing, teaching and learning are grounded in sacred soil and that renewing my vocation as a teacher requires cultivating a sense of the sacred.” “I think the problem we are up against is that we are crippled in this modernist culture in speaking about this dimension, and the people that have experienced it throughout history – the mystics, the sages – it seems to me they do come back, and report it as a deeply meaningful and moral realm.” Ron Miller

I was first introduced to Black Elk by a Creek friend whose grandfather was also a holy man. He said I should read the book and understand what spirituality is about. As I read, I also found this is what learning is about.

“You have noticed that everything, as Indian does, is in a circle, and that is because the Power of the World always works in circles, and everything tries to be round….. The Sky is round, and I have heard that the earth is round like a ball, as are all the stars. The wind, in its greatest power, whirls. Birds make their nest in circles, for theirs is the same religion as ours…. Even the seasons form a great circle in their changing and always come back again to where they were. The life of a man is a circle from childhood to childhood, and so it is in everything where power moves” Black Elk

This is the outlook of Black Elk, Oglala Sioux holy man, in his discussions and narrative of his visions as a child and as an elder in the tribe with John Neihardt in the late 1920s and early 1930s. This view Native Americans have of life we civilized folk have a difficult time with. Black Elk perceived that there was an all-encompassing view of all that is. In my naive beginning study of curriculum theory, I see aspects of this philosophy in curriculum theory and my analogy of a track on a circular journey in the life of education and learning.

“One of the paradoxes of our times is that in an age pervaded by the clash of conflicting ideologies, so little effort is spent in enabling students to critically examine their values and beliefs.” Elliot Eisner

We tend to lose individualism in trying to accomplish everything and standardize, sanitize, and provide a “curriculum” to our schools. I became a big fan of Elliot Eisner while studying at Georgia Southern University, borrowing from Eisner again.

“As David Hume suggested, one cannot logically proceed from a description of what is to a conception of what ought to be.” “If the concept of mankind were used as an organizing element in the curriculum, certain differences in school programs might emerge.” Elliot Eisner

The curriculum is a living thing, ongoing and pervasive, and it is not a limiting plan of strategies as so many teachers presume. I think I have been pondering too long today, and who knows, maybe there are answers after all. Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and hearts, and always give thanks namaste.

My family and friends, I do not say this lightly,
Mitakuye Oyasin
(We are all related)

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