November 21, 2011

I'll Learn What I Want to Learn

Guest post by Scott Bailey

If the goal of schooling and teaching is truly that students experience and engage in learning, then it is the absolute responsibility of teachers to connect and dismantle any and all distinctions between “school” knowledge and “real” knowledge.  Grumet’s (2006) argument that “schooling is about schooling” (p. 47) and Eisner’s (1994) acknowledgement of criticism that schooling merely “foster[s] compliant behavior” (p. 89) illustrate how problematic this categorization of knowledge is.  The stigma that permeates high schools in organizing Math, English, Social Studies and the sciences into levels such as 20-1, 20-2, et cetera is one example of the false priority and privilege that “scholarly” and “academic” knowledge enjoy over “practical” and “how-to” skills.   Learning is best accomplished when students recognize, embody and value a need for any aspect of knowledge – facts, theories or applications among many.  Teachers must recognize and actively respond to the reality that if students are the agents expected to learn, then for the greatest results, they must also be the primary drivers of their own learning.  School content must be relevant to ensure that students see this value and importance.  This relevance will only arise when students play the leading role, in collaboration with their teachers, in determining and executing the learning process.

Rather than beginning with “curriculum acronyms” or “academic disciplines” (Grumet, 2006, p. 47) in determining schooling content and methodology, teachers must establish the needs, interests and passions of their students and place them at the forefront of the lesson plans.  Grumet (2006) re-phrases Scheler’s notions of “persons” and “the world” as “correlate” as “completely interdependent,” declaring “a person who knows is a person who is engaged with the world” (p. 49 – 50).  When schools and schooling makes curriculum and academics disparate from the world that their students live within, this disparity interferes with learning and knowledge.  For centuries, teachers have fielded the question “when will I ever have to use this?” from students.  This question stems from students’ embodiment of the separation of schooling from their worldly context.  An inquiry approach to teaching and learning – for both teachers and students – bridges this gap.  Inquiry, defined by Grumet (2006) as a shift from “teaching what we know, to teaching what we want to know” (p. 53) places the root of academic planning and designing with the learner (the student) and their questions and learning needs.  From this beginning, all teaching considerations that follow will always be real; nothing could possibly be artificial.  As teachers, we should strive to create situations where students ask “now that we understand this aspect, can we learn about? or look into? or find out why? …”  Students should drive the content and teachers should guide the process so that curriculum objectives are achieved.  This process not only connects “real” knowledge to “school” knowledge, it dismantles this distinction and orients learners and teachers around a new culture of schooling that values all knowledge as relevant, meaningful and lasting.


Eisner, E.W. (1994).  The three curricula that all schools teach.  In E.W. Eisner, The educational imagination: On the design and evaluation of school programs.  New York: MacMillan College.

Grumet, M.R. (2006).  Where does the world go when schooling is about schooling?  Journal of Curriculum Theorizing, 22(3), 47 – 54.

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