One of our friends in The Learning Space, Bharathy, asked in our whatsapp group the following:
I have a question stemming from perhaps my ignorance. I will be grateful if you could share your thoughts/experiences. I have been having a hard time deciding whether to follow a curriculum or not. What makes some of you follow a curriculum and some of you not. Are your children motivated to follow a curriculum? For those who do not follow a curriculum and not going the exam route, can you please share what you envisage/foresee for your kids.
Many others in the group must be having similar questions. Given below is my response:
Let us start with the definition:
Depending on how broadly educators define or employ the term, curriculum typically refers to the knowledge and skills students are expected to learn, which includes the learning standards or learning objectives they are expected to meet; the units and lessons that teachers teach; the assignments and projects given to students; the books, materials, videos, presentations, and readings used in a course; and the tests, assessments, and other methods used to evaluate student learning ( source: https://www.edglossary.org/curriculum/ )
This definition looks great until we read again and notice the word “expected” in it. As parents of kids who don’t go to regular schools, we know that the word “expected” ruins the entire definition. We don’t want to expect our kids to learn and grow. We already know and trust that they will learn and grow, not according to our specific expectations, but according to their own uniqueness. That is whole point of home based education.
Whether we homeschool, unschool or alt-school our children, to gain consistency and move through levels, we need, at the very least a “method-less method”. In other words, some form of curriculum is inevitable for developing basic competence in any subject.
However, Bharathy’s meaning of curriculum is different from a general definition of the word.
She is referring to an academic curriculum. She says, “For those who do not follow a curriculum and not going the exam route…”. That is, for many people, to follow a curriculum is to “go the exam route” and get certificates. That is the only expectation of parents whose kids go to school. However, for many parents who are reading this, certificates are probably a secondary expectation along with the primary expectation of the actual learning. Though secondary, certificates seem to be important.
We tend to think that the only kids who do not really need certificates are prodigies. Their talent and abilities are so obvious that they do not need to be certified by some institution. The reason their abilities are obvious is that prodigies demonstrate them with very high quality.
What about kids who are capable of demonstrating their abilities with a basic level of quality? Is that not good enough for an employer, investor or a research center to offer them opportunities in the form of jobs, funding and positions?
In my twenty years of chequered career in seven cities and three domains, I have not seen a single interviewer who has preferred certificates over a decent portfolio.
The choice is binary: We can either help our kids get certificates or help them create their own portfolio. Attempting do both with the same curriculum will make our kids grow into adults exactly like us – “could have been” people.
A portfolio is a portable showcase of one’s talents. It could be in many forms – write-ups, audio, video, blog, objects, artifacts etc.
A certificate is piece of paper. It is a proxy for a portfolio. And a very poor one.
If we as parents think we have the commitment, time and resources to actively support our children’s education (as opposed to passively sending them to a school), then we need to shift our goal from certificates to a portfolio.
Supporting our children create their own portfolio requires a far more rigorous curriculum than that of a school. This is not a curriculum that will prepare them for a life that is to be lived many years later. It is a curriculum that a family needs to create for the whole family and not only for the children, to live life right now in a way that is full of peace and harmony, learning and fun. This “course of life” leading to the creation of actual values and benefits that can go into the portfolio.
The requirement of a portfolio is not for the same reason people require certificates. A portfolio is a means to help others engage and collaborate with us. It is not a tool to seek what we need. It is a means we are providing others to discover who we are and how to engage with us.
So, first, as a family, we need to create values and benefits for ourselves with whatever abilities and resources and within whatever constraints we have. Then we record and share a slice of our creations, our portfolio, with the world. Whoever happens to collaborate with us after discovering about us becomes our extended family and we create more values with them. This perspective will help us not fall into transactional relationships where we are always either seeking something from people “above us” or giving something to people “below us”. No transactional relationship can be equal. It is always calculative and skewed in favour of one party, especially if it involves money.
Many families reading this post have already been doing experiments in sustainable living for many years to different degrees. It would be great for us to commit to create a “Course of Life” (which is what Curriculum Vitae means), and collaborate to not merely study it but live it.
So Bharathy, thank you so much for asking this question. Shall we start designing a general family curriculum that each family can customize for itself?
Anyone interested in designing this family curriculum is welcome. Please SIGN UP to be part of the team.