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In 2002, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) was reauthorized to empower the existing program, "No Child Left Behind (NCLB)" with a number of additional requirements like accountability, testing, rewards, sanctions and choice of public schools. The main objective of this act was to reduce the gap between affluent white middle class students and socially and traditionally deprived counterparts, from low income, poorer and diverse ethnical groups. The new requirement demanded by this revolutionary act has left teachers and school management committee to find suitable ways to improve students' performance on standard school tests.
However, this has also created an unsavory situation, where teachers are teaching to the test and rote learning of many unrelated and disconnected concepts and skills. Test scores were to be elevated in some cases, while we also see very low scores for the same group of students, as they pass out of different grade levels. Hence, all students need a well conceived, well-designed and highly integrated curriculum that makes students in acquiring skills and knowledge that actually help eventual learning.
Students can learn in an equitable manner, when they use an integrated curriculum. When you supplement the curriculum across all disciplines, students can efficiently pool their knowledge and skills acquired earlier, streamline learning choices and preferences and use a number of sources to acquire fresh knowledge and skills. You can reframe the curriculum to help students utilize knowledge and skills well conceived in one particular subject to support development in another separate area.
What are curriculum domains?
You can segregate the curriculum into two separate and unique domains, each of them with three different intersecting strands. These two domains are descriptive and expressive. These two domains are mutually and reciprocally supportive means for better understanding and interpreting ideas in each of the three strands.
The three different strands are psychological, sociological and health/environmental. These strands consist of structures that help us in divulging several patterns of mutually shared views on how we can comprehend and enhance the quality of our life (See Figure 5.1).
The main point of focus of a descriptive domain is myriad of explanations, answers and responses to topics, issues and problems that concern our life, living and non-living phenomena of the past, future and present. Practices employed by a descriptive domain always stress on accuracy and veracity of quantitative data gathering, formation of different hypotheses, conducting experimentation and documenting data in an organized manner those others can confirm and repeat.
The main goal of a descriptive artist is to elevate the basic understanding of events that occur within the universe and later to maintain, retain, preserve and improve the overall quality of lives. If you are a descriptive type of person, then you will prefer an empirical or analytical method to study, research, document, find, and describe various phenomena, situations, conditions and events. Descriptive types of workers have always been called the scientists, because of their abilities to provide quantitative content that is both empirical and analytical.
If you believe in pure objectivity in the descriptive type of art, then it is a big myth. Here, you may never have use for qualitative, creative, intuitive and thoughtful techniques to explain about various phenomena or to detect problems and pitfalls and to find out solutions to pressing problems. Descriptive types of work show bias in its perceptions, meanings and viewpoints. Other issues like pressure from peers, perceived values of the society, as well political/economic divergences may influence people, who work in a descriptive way. Your personal values and perceptions about culture, socialization and education can easily influence the decisions that you take about the intrinsic values and use of information. Descriptive arts are the subject topics that are included in the descriptive domains of the school curriculum. Some areas that can easily integrate into the descriptive domain could be science, math, history and social sciences.
On the other hand, an expressive domain relates to many explanations and responses to several issues, questions, queries and problems that concern life, living and non-living things of the three dimensions of time, that is past, present and future. Expressive domains techniques can help you catch, analyze, communicate and interpret personal and group ideas, its perceptions or reactions to an existing phenomena or situations that may be real, fictitious, spiritual or imaginary. What you practice with an expressive art domain is always subjective; here, you try to address similar issues and questions in a non-personalized manner.
You can even use expressive arts to capture and grab a number of emotions, values and perceptions related to humans. This capacity will empower you to lean how people are living and creating a sense of their world, both spiritual and materialistic. Expressive arts contain subject topics and matters those are included within the expressive domains. These subject topics could include subjects like visual, fine and performing arts, literature and philosophy. These topics also present a casual, informal and impressionistic knowledge purposefully taken from thoughtful, intelligent, intuitive, and qualitative sources and techniques.
The perimeters that you can set for expressive arts are not exactly absolute. You can create a subject matter from an empirical or analytical source as well. Descriptive artists often find expressive arts very beneficial. When you intersect both descriptive and expressive domains of the curriculum, it could form a very good source for originality, creativity, invention, discovery, problem solving and critical thinking (Refer to Figure 5.2). However, none of the processes that you use here is exclusive and special to one specific curriculum domain.
If you want your students to solve difficult problems, then you may need to help them identify and find out new techniques of thinking about a given problem or assist them use newer products and services for advanced technological use. Students should also use methods that are informal, easy, intuitive, thoughtful, empirical and procedural in nature.
Introducing such a curriculum may actually result in a distorted polarity between the balanced and unbalanced views within the area created by the two domains. You can design the curriculum and interpret in a number of ways to provide extra value to one domain over the other, without realizing the mutuality of different ways of comprehending knowledge. This move may result in a scenario, where those with a liking for one domain may get undue advantages, while those who dislike it may undergo disadvantages. Hence, providing a well-balanced curriculum is very important as it provides an opportunity for the students to develop intellectual abilities in both domains. On the other hand, an imbalanced curriculum could be a big pitfall, because of students' inability to develop a vision that is binocular in nature.
The strands that hold a curriculum
As mentioned before, you can segregate the curriculum into three different strands; these help teachers in understanding and improving the overall quality of life of children. These strands are as follows:
1) Psychological issues that relate to personalized or individualized identity, self-concept, perception and self-belief systems that can affect the life's quality of individuals.
2) Different sociological issues that relate to cultural, political, historical and social issues that can influence the overall quality of life for a group of people
3) Different health and environmental issues that can affect the overall quality of life on the earth (Check Figure 5.3)
The psychological strand can affect the way we look at one's personal and group identity, self-concept, different social behaviors and belief systems. It can also influence the way in which individuals live within and outside the school. Students, who use a curriculum that does not include individual meaning, may undergo several changes and transformations like:
1) Develop a lack of motivation and self-initiative
2) Perform very poor in academics
3) Develop a negative mentality about self
4) Arrive at a conclusion that the curriculum is unrelated to life.
5) May abandon their own personal and group identity
6) May also accept the identity that is provided by the curriculum
7) Tend to develop confusion and disillusion, when their aspirations are not satisfied at the school
Texts on social studies provide a perfect example of how distortions can have powerful impact on the psychological mindset of ethnic groups and other minorities. Speaking traditionally, social studies curriculum acts as a spiral beginner with in itself and it expands very quickly into a global scenario. This means that children of Euro-American origin will feel that their expressions and beliefs are coinciding with the culture of the country. Right now, the social studies curriculum may not represent the families in second grade and reject the extended family concepts that are so familiar with many ethnic children. At the same time, the same curriculum may represent the nuclear family traditions of Euro-Americans, all the while stressing on their values and practices. The grades that are at immense risks are the children who study in fourth and fifth grades.
State history texts for fourth graders are replete with many reverences to exploration and settlement by European immigrants, while relegating the history and culture of indigenous people to the background. On the other hand, the history textbooks for fifth graders provide an in depth account on the history of relocation, settlement and creation of a new home for European immigrants.
All the updated multicultural history references about the United States follow almost similar trends; most of these updates just provide a cursory glance of non-European groups and their diverse cultures. A null curriculum is the one that omits a significant and relevant portion of information about ethnic cultures. Hence, a null curriculum may result in an acutely negative impact on the minds of ethnic people. The result will be a faceless population, who fail to find space or time.
The second strand, namely, the sociological strand of the curriculum relates to relationships within, in between and among groups of people. Issues like inequitable distribution of material wealth and societal power, patterns of social organization, cultural and traditional beliefs and values, technological advancements, geo-political events, history and geography can seriously influence the relationship. Lastly, the health and environmental strand deals with the physiological health of individuals, environmental factors, advances in science and technology and ecological phenomena may seriously influence human life.
Why an integrated curriculum is important for a classroom? Could you reframe the curriculum to help students utilize knowledge and skills that come naturally to them? Is it possible to create different curriculum domains that are mutually and reciprocally supportive to help children's educational needs? Design a draft curriculum by using the strands suggested in the chapter.
Pause and Reflect
Compare different curriculum strands that support different school curricula. As a teacher, how will you use a particular strand to empower you schoolchildren to learn in a meaningful way?
Find out more information on critical federal educational programs like the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and "No Child Left Behind (NCLB)". Search for additional information on expressive and descriptive arts and compare them.