Curriculum Theorizing: Discovery through Autobiographical Narration A Reader Response by Jessica Berces For EDU 6460 Curriculum, Culture, and Language

Curriculum Theorizing: Discovery through Autobiographical Narration A Reader Response by   Jessica Berces   For EDU 6460 Curriculum, Culture, and Language

It’s a slushy February morning and after navigating the busy streets of Toronto I board a train headed to Ottawa. Stumbling down the narrow aisle I find my spot, I settle into my place, my newly assigned identity, 4C. Opening my laptop I know it’s time for me to start writing a response to Ng-A-Fook’s article Provoking Curriculum Theorizing, recognizing the irony of setting, I stare at my screen hoping this train ride evokes the curriculum theorist within.

As I sit here struggling to put my words onto paper (actually my laptop) my mind begins to wander. Surfing the internet this weekend I experienced that special moment when someone else’s words spoke to everything I was feeling and thinking at that time – reflecting my present narrative perfectly. Author, Charles Eisenstein, explains, “Your secret suspicion is true. The world is supposed to be much more beautiful than what has been offered as true.” (LondonRealTV, 2013). Connecting with these words I am inspired as a teacher and amateur intellectual to engage with my narrative, transforming my familiar and questioning my comfortable.

Currere, as explained by Ng-A-Fook (2011) was given a transformation and birthed anew as a conceptual framework for curriculum studies in the 1970’s by Pinar and Grumet. The theorists radically reconceptualised the educational understanding of curriculum from noun to verb – currere. Through this transformation curriculum became active, living and breathing, as understood by Pinar and Ng-A-Fook (2011). In Ng-A-Fook’s article the methodology of currere is used as an alternative to traditional “empirical research methods”. We are reminded of the process of currere described by Pinar, involving 1) regression, 2) progression, 3) analysis, and 4) synthesis. Here a mélange of autobiographical snapshots are offered where past and future converge in the present to create third space (Ng-A-Fook). In this paper I attempt to gain insight into Ng-A-Fook’s article through an autobiographical engagement with curriculum, where I briefly attempt to live in a third space created through currere.

Intimidated by the fact that there are no answers at the back of the book and no template to follow I invited myself to begin telling my unique story onboard the Via Rail finding comfort in knowing that multiple meanings can be made (Ng-A-Fook, 2011). Although I was still on the same train going down the same tracks everything looked different. Scanning my scenery I took it all in.

I looked UP…                                                  I looked AHEAD…

I saw sky…                                                                         I saw forest…

My narrative was allowing me to unwrap the unnaturally/natural surroundings of this train and superimpose them onto another unnaturally/natural setting – the classroom. My linking of experience allowed me to further explore the un/normal sterile classroom addressed by Hurren & Hasebe-Ludt (2011). Sitting in my seat – my joints stiffening, my back aching I felt myself beginning to squirm. I began to question this state of catatonia which had become so comfortably/uncomfortable, reinforced as normal through my horizontal and vertical experience in school (Ng-A-Fook, 2011). I use the aesthetic of autobiographical narrative to guide my answer, using this aesthetic I work with my vertical and horizontal topographies. To describe the role of verticality and horizontality I draw on Ng-A-Fook’s (2011) description. Verticality represents my past, history and knowledge of the “intellectual topography” of curriculum studies whereas my horizontality describes the present situation of curriculum studies in both the realm of research and practice. Reflecting vertically on my past practice I wonder the extent I reinforced this state of being, expecting my students to accept this catatonic state as normal? Closing my eyes and thinking back I shudder as I hear my voice reminding students to “sit still” and “remain seated”, offering encouragement to students who complied and subtle looks of disapproval to those who did not.  This is what I thought my role as teacher entailed, engrained in me from the moment I entered school at 5 years old and reconfirmed in my horizontality by my mentor teacher.

Staring out the window at the winter landscape I begin reflecting on ‘terroir’ a concept that I have recently become acquainted with in my horizontality. I try to visualize the crops that emerge from these soils forming what might entail my ‘terroir’ and I draw a blank. Although missing from my vertical experience in school food and identity have begun to blossom in my horizontal experience – like the awakening of a dormant seed. Suddenly my thoughts are interrupted by a piercing announcement, “Prochain arrêt Kingston, Kingston next stop”. The announcement makes its way over the intercom in français and English, and my mind drifts.

Continuing to reflect on the land my thoughts bring me in a different direction. Inspired by Ng-A-Fook’s (2011) examination of the silent, exiled totem pole erected within the busy topography of Ottawa’s market I gaze out the window on the passing scenery and consider the languages and places which are silenced and why. I have travelled this way dozens of times, each time increasingly familiar with where I am. Today is different. I am becoming increasingly aware of the underrepresentation of indigenous education for both aboriginal and non-aboriginal students – I included. As I begin a web search to discover the aboriginal land this journey brings me through I become lost and my familiar is made strange. Asking questions about aboriginal presence in Canadian curriculum studies is a new journey in my horizontality and future – part of something I always felt was missing yet never knew to look for. Using currere to frame the horizontal and vertical topography of Canada Ng-A-Fook (2011) examines a totem pole in Ottawa’s market, described as standing, exiled within the treacherous “past, present and future of colonial times”. We learn that the totem facing opposite the icon of colonialism, The Hudson Bay Company, differs from the traditional totem we have come to know. For a price, the “real estate” of this totem could be bought, whereby different cultural groups could have their national symbols tattooed onto its cedar body. The exiled totem as described by Ng-A-Fook (2011) symbolizes a narrative of multiple cultures all existing on the same land writing the unfinished story of Canada through the verb – currere.

Typing away I am called back to ‘reality’, “Prochain arrêt Ottawa, Ottawa next stop”. Lining-up in a school-like fashion to exit the train I prepare to join the ‘real’ world again. Narrating through free association, travelling through my horizontal and vertical experiences I hoped to have offered a snapshot into my emerging relationship with curriculum theorizing (Ng-A-Fook, 2011). Using free associative writing I was able to relate my experiences as student and teacher to my academic knowledge of curriculum studies. Explained by Ng-A-Fook (2011) this afforded me the opportunity to pose questions of these experiences and in turn learn through my vertical and horizontal relationships with them. The method of currere has inspired my story of coming home to Ottawa, highlighting my evolving understanding of curriculum theory brought to life through metaphor – the train and snapshots of my past, present and future. Using autobiographic writing I was able to gain a deepened understanding of how my history interacts with my present worldview allowing for growth and transformation. Walking through my past and present, attempting to better understand curriculum and my teaching practice I saw the normalized behaviours I had encountered through my vertical experience at school which I unknowingly reinforce. Recalling the ‘cookie-cutter’ education of my past I am only now starting to explore part of the dough scrapped to the side like aboriginal education and learning of self-identity. Similar to my ride home, the journey of education is not about the destination. School needs to be more than answers at the back of the book or parroting a teacher’s words to obtain the A of Approval. Derailing my past and present knowledge to examine curriculum and education from multiple perspectives has allowed me to confirm my secret suspicion – the world and education is supposed to be much more beautiful than what has been offered as true (LondonRealTV, 2013). The horizontal of curriculum studies calls for critical thinking in student learning moving towards examining social and environmental justice – teaching in the context of the world. We are seeing shifts towards democratic classrooms where student and teacher engage in open dialogue attempting to give each student a voice and identity. Looking into the future of Ontario’s curriculum I hope to see more culturally responsive teaching as well as teaching that weaves aboriginal and non-aboriginal histories and perspectives together giving students the opportunity to think otherwise while discovering their interrelatedness as described by Donald (2004). Moving into the future of curriculum theorizing, the process of narration allows us to uncover how past educational assumptions continue to oppress us and others (Ng-A-Fook, 2011). Exiting the train I emerged with a greater sense of self-knowing and a digital representation of my engagement with curriculum theorizing…

References

Donald, D. (2004). Edmonton pentimento: Re-reading history in the case of the papaschase cree. Journal of Canadian Curriculum Studies2(1), 21-54.

Hurren, W., & Hasebe-Ludt, E. (2011). Bringing Curriculum Down to Earth The Terroir That We Are. Journal of Curriculum Theorizing 27(2), 17-34.

LondonRealTV. (2013, January 17). Charles Eisenstein – Sacred Economics [Video file]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CR4GXN9B_Lc

Ng-A-Fook, N. (2011). Provoking Curriculum Theorizing: A Question of/for Currere, Denkbild and Aesthetics. Media : Culture : Pedagogy, 15(2). Retrieved from http://mcp.educ.ubc.ca/v15n02DigitalGeneration_Article09_Ng-A-Fook