Academic journal article Curriculum and Teaching Dialogue

Chapter 1: Living in Interesting Times: Toward a Curriculum of Meaning in a Time of Fear

Academic journal article Curriculum and Teaching Dialogue

Chapter 1: Living in Interesting Times: Toward a Curriculum of Meaning in a Time of Fear

Article excerpt

"May you live in interesting times," goes the saying, attributed to the Chinese, although the provenance is unproven. It is widely understood to be a curse, for which a loose translation could be: "May you experience disorder and trouble in your life." In this essay I raise the issue of the "interesting times" in which we live, a time of great unrest and human agony amid the beauty and serenity that can be found. What am I referring to? The current climate includes the carceral state, Black men dying at the hands of police officers; mass migration and refugees fleeing the East; and religious fanaticism. Amid all of this exist our public schools in which the curriculum is important and not only reflects who we are by embodying and reflecting our values, it shows who we hope to become. What role do we as curriculum and teaching leaders play in bringing peace and understanding to our interesting times? It is something I attempt to reflect on and map out in what follows.

My contention is thus: now is the time more than ever to return to progressive principles of viewing educators as being on the vanguard of social change and of creating a curriculum that is meaningful, relevant, and cultivates the qualities we want to our citizens to embody. Teachers and others who work in education spend every day with youth and can help shape and influence them about what a citizen is and does. For us to make a start at getting there, we must look inward, for the taproot of our individual work is autobiography. We should all be asking: How is my work shaped by my life and experiences? What should be in the school curriculum? Why does it matter?

My own journey has informed my work in teaching and curriculum, and it has infused it with a sense of urgency. I grew up in a steel mill town on the banks of Lake Erie in Upstate New York. My home community was diverse in every sense of the word--racially, religiously, ethnically--but was starkly segregated. I taught in my hometown in the early 1990s, when the Lackawanna City School District was experiencing an upsurge in the population of South Yemen immigrants. In this largely Catholic municipality, the South Yemeni migrants remade the landscape of rust and soot with an infusion of a strange, foreign culture epitomized by the mosque which was erected in a neighborhood in the first ward. The schools had to find ways to acculturate, teach, and accept the new denizens in ways other than before. During the years I taught in Lackawanna (1989-1993), we had to realize the following: letters home had to be drafted in Arabic; gym class had to accommodate girls in hijabs, long sleeves, and floor-length dresses; and teachers had to be mindful of a different calendar when planning lessons, such as fasting during Ramadan.

Since then, my professional and personal lives have continued to merge and have emerged dedicated to the cause of racial justice--expressed through the various roles I play, including urban teacher educator and transracial adoptive mother. What was abstract before has become tangible and real. I am now living the adage "the personal is political" like never before. We educators and educational leaders need to think about what experiences shape us. What informs our work and keeps us pressing on? And, just to clarify, the "personal is political" does not apply only to women, although it was an oft-used phrase of the women's movement of the 1970s. Taken from Carol Hanisch's 1969 essay by the same name, the phrase, in true feminist fashion, applies to all. Relevant to my purposes in this article is the following excerpt from Hanisch's piece:

"... the reason I participate in these meetings is not to solve any personal problem. One of the first things we discover in these groups is that personal problems are political problems. There are no personal solutions at this time. There is only collective action for a collective solution ."

Collective action for a collective solution should be foremost in the work of teaching and curriculum. …

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