October 4, 2015
Some people might look around the Open School and ask, “What is the curriculum?” The Latin roots of the word curriculum translate as ‘the course of a race’ and if this is our working definition, then surely we have no curriculum. We do not view human development and education as a race, nor do we recognize a single course that students must run to arrive at the finish line. Different people run different races, both as children and as adults. We finish in different places because we have different goals and we move at different paces. But if we use the word curriculum to describe the totality of student experience in an educational system, then, in fact, we do have a curriculum. Let me tell you about it.
The curriculum at the Open School is a holistic approach to human development that emphasizes personal responsibility, emotional self-regulation, compassion and respect for others, social problem solving, and interest driven learning. In a word, our curriculum is life itself. We wholeheartedly believe that children learn how to be happy, healthy, intelligent, motivated, pro-social adults by navigating the reality of living in community and pursuing that which they are passionate about.
Most schools pay lip service to these curricular objectives, but the pedagogy and structure of the school actually work against their development. Without freedom and true choice, there can be no personal responsibility. How can a child learn to be responsible for himself when he is coddled and forced to behave in a way that is not authentic? Without the capacity to stop everything and address emotional outbursts in real time, there can be no healthy emotional self-regulation. How can a child learn how to handle their emotions if they are suppressed or brushed to the side as an inconvenient distraction to the group’s learning process? Without respect and compassion for children, how will children ever learn it themselves? If the classroom is set up so that the teacher is the sole authority and exerts power to forcibly coerce children into doing what they want, there is no example of true respect or compassion. Without an open and flexible system of restorative justice, there can be no real social problem solving. How can a child learn how to navigate complex social systems if at the end of the day the adult will simply force the solution that she desires? And without the ability to learn what one is passionate about, the majority of the day is wasted time. How will a child follow their dreams when their dreams are ignored and they are told that they must learn things they have no interest in?
A curriculum that begins not with academics, but with holistic human development, creates the conditions in which a child may come to understand herself. Knowing what motivates her, what her passions are, how to handle conflict, what triggers her emotionally and how to heal herself, these are the lessons for a good life. We can’t know where each child will go in life, but we will feel confident that wherever it is, that child will walk with her head held high, having known what it is to love and be loved.