I've probably said before somewhere on this blog that I hate the word "curriculum," which reminds me of the word "speculum," and evokes a similar sense of discomfort and coercion.
But considered as a constellation of related objects of study, the concept has some value. Certainly constellation as a word has more sparkle.
This year my kids (12 and 14) have drafted me to help them write a screenplay. We downloaded Celtx, screenwriting freeware that lays out the text in a most professional way, and once a week we have a story meeting. Pictured here and portrayed by my daughter is a wise-talking homeless archer, one of the story's central characters, all of whom are 12-year-olds with remarkable abilities.
My job is to take dictation, help guide the script scene by scene—although the story is entirely, and I mean entirely, theirs, and make suggestions when I think of one.
I suggested, for example, that they might want to read The Writer's Journey, Christopher Vogler's popularization of narrative structure as found in the work of Joseph Campbell (and Vladimir Propp, in Morphology of the Folk Tale). Reading the introduction to that today led us to watching the Bill Moyers interviews with Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth, in which he talks about the elements of the hero's journey.
The Hero's Journey is a fruitful framework for considering the X-Men movies we've been watching, and superhero comics, which entered the house in force about a year ago thanks to a weekly class my son takes at at the home of a comic book artist (also a landscape artist in the Hudson River School mode), and helped provide context for our trip to NY Comic Con this weekend, where we saw hundreds if not thousands of young people dress up as their favorite heroes of comics, novels, movies, and games. My kids had already, for years, been reading and re-reading Scott McCloud's books (Understanding Comics, Making Comics, and Reinventing Comics), which are brilliant introductions to literary and film theory in addition to being great practical guides to the craft of visual storytelling.
I think of all this as the emergent curriculum. The emergent curriculum is what happens when you follow your nose, and stands in opposition to its evil twin, the plan for instruction. The difference is directional, and calls to mind a distinction I drew earlier this evening when someone online objected to the term "occupy" being used by the Occupy Wall Street movement, complaining it was militaristic. I think of it more as reclamation than seizure, I said, of public space that has been unjustly privatized. Think of the two senses of "occupy" as the difference between colonization and squatting.
I sometimes think the main trouble with the schooling system has to do with arrows. The standards-based system of testing and pre-approved specula—oops! I mean curricula—is like an arrow directed at the learner. But learning takes place so much more effectively if the arrow is pointed out. What I'm saying is that a good teacher, an effective teacher, is receptive, a good listener. The learner is the archer.