In the classroom, curriculum is a well-known concept. Curriculum dictates what you teach and what your students learn and, in many ways, forms the cornerstone of our educational system. In student affairs, my professional field of practice, curriculum is a newer concept, just beginning to take hold. Which brings me directly to my curriculum metaphor: Curriculum is a baby human.
Curriculum is a Baby Human
A baby forms the centre of your life. They dictate how you structure your day and what you accomplish. They constantly demand your attention; while you can put them down for a short period, they always force you to come back before too long, or else things go awry. There are times when having a baby is fun and an experience full of joy, and other times when it’s hard and exhausting.
The above can also be said about curriculum. Curriculum dictates how you structure your day, forming the backbone of how you structure your classes and what you help your students learn. You need to constantly pay attention to the curriculum; while you might be able to deviate for short periods of time, spending too much time away from the prescribed outcomes likely means your students won’t reach them. Finally, while the curriculum can create experiences that are fun and full of joy, it can also create frustration and resentment.
Egan’s (2003) discourse about the what and the how of curriculum also relates to this baby metaphor. After bringing us through a history of curriculum discourse, Egan ends by saying that “focus[ing] on either how or what at the expense of the other is improper” (Egan, 2003, pp. 16). With a baby, the what pieces are important. What do we need to do to sustain the baby’s life? We must feed them, cloth them, put a roof over their head and change their diapers. But the how pieces are equally as important. For a baby to grow into a well-adjusted child, we must do these things with love and spend time holding them, cuddling them, soothing them while accomplishing the what. In education, the what pieces often convey information to students, but the how pieces allow them to develop an interest in the topic, in learning, and to develop additional skills and competencies beyond content knowledge.
To apply this metaphor directly to the idea of curriculum within the field of student affairs, in the same way that you get to watch a baby grow, develop and change the world around them, I am currently watching the integration of curriculum into our work do the same.
Exploring Curriculum Through a Student Affairs Lens
In many ways, all conversations about curriculum are new to me. While I have been developing training sessions, program goals, and learning outcomes for years, those facets of my work have never been viewed through the lens of curriculum. Whether I have been developing curriculum (or good curriculum) is up for debate and will likely be explored in future assignments, but for the purpose of this assignment, I’m going to assume (or pretend) I am.
Since reading Egan’s article, What is Curriculum? (2003), I haven’t stopped thinking about his argument that both the what and the how are a part of curriculum. These have always been two very separate parts of the program development process for me. The early stages of program development typically involve identifying our overall goals and outlining our learning outcomes—the what stage, and what I would have, pre-Egan, considered the curriculum development stage without question (assuming I was thinking through the lens of curriculum at all). The later stages of program development involve designing the learning activities—figuring out the how. I’ve would never have previously considered this to be curriculum, although Egan argues that it is. In my context, I’m currently trying to figure out whether I agree, disagree, or if this distinction even matters at all. If both the what and the how are a part of the overall process, does it matter what terminology we apply? While at the moment, I’m leaning towards no, I suspect that as I continue to learn more about applying curriculum to student life, my thoughts on that will change.
Blades’ (1995) article about the procedures of power in a curriculum discourse resonated strongly with me, as many of his points aligned with conversations I’ve had throughout the process of developing our Pre-Arrival Program. Blades’ conversation about how “consultation is both a political process to appease resistance and a legitimate process…” (Blades, 1995, pp. 140) felt like an accurate description of my process of consultation. We brought together voices from all over the institution because we genuinely wanted their input and expertise on what the program should look like; however, inevitably, some voices ended up carrying more weight or getting their way simply because of university politics.
Blades also raised the idea that “‘curriculum’ might be defined as ‘what is valued and given priority and what is devalued and excluded’” (Blades, 1995, pp. 130). The implications of the hidden messages that a curriculum can send are important to consider. Developing the Pre-Arrival Program involved many conversations about what should be included and excluded. While we talk explicitly about the values of the UVic community in our program, the overall curriculum of the program also speaks volumes about what we value. As one example, while working to enhance the content about equity, diversity and inclusion in the program recently, we had several conversations about whether we should be talking about anti-racism, or about anti-oppression. The choice was inherently a curriculum choice, and each option sent a slightly different message about what, and who, we valued.
My major takeaway from our initial conversations and readings about curriculum is that while curriculum may seem simple and straightforward, there are lots of things going on beneath the surface that make it more complicated, nuanced and demanding of critical thought. There’s a lot to think about as student affairs moves towards a curricular approach.
Blades, D. (1995). Procedures of Power in a Curriculum Discourse: Conversations from Home. JCT, 11(4), 125-155.
Egan, K. (2003). What is Curriculum? Journal of the Canadian Association for Curriculum Studies, 1(1), 9-16.