Curriculum as Media
I am fascinated by media. I believe that media is the vehicle through which the transmission of culture takes place. Books, movies, music, blogs, magazines, podcasts, television shows, web series, vodcasts, tweets, status updates, instagram photos, tumblr posts, and linked in all contribute to the creation, sharing, and shaping of culture. This is why fair, equitable, and nuanced representations of all of humanity is so essential in popular media. I also believe that this is why Black Twitter, LGBTQ Twitter, Feminist Twitter, and any other historically marginalized group that has coalesced on my favorite social network often use their collective voice to correct the habitual line steppers who hold positions of privilege when they step across the aforementioned line. Images, characters, and narratives matter because they have immense power over our collective beliefs and behavior. Our media tells other groups what we believe about them and about ourselves, whether that is the intended purpose or not.
If you want to know what a group of people believe to be true, then listen to their music, watch their television shows, read their books, magazines, and blog posts.Immerse yourself in their stories. Pay attention to the narratives in their media.
What does any of this have to do with public education…?
Public school students are essentially a captive audience who have little and often no choice over what they are fed. Textbooks, lesson plans, teacher websites, worksheets, standardized tests, quizzes, classroom rules, and homework are all forms of media. Antiquated media, but media nonetheless. The curriculum of public schools essentially performs the same function as a television show or song, to transmit the beliefs and values of one group to another. Public schools are places where acculturation takes place on a massive scale.
In this regard, public schools are like Earthbound nebulae; they are the nurseries where we take the best of our collective culture (we hope), feed it to our children, and then add time, pressure, and practice. Once the children have had enough of these ingredients we then send them out into the world as adults to continue to help shape our collective culture for the better. This doesn’t always happen in the way we would hope, but that’s the basic blueprint of public school. The children are the inputs, the curriculum/media is what the are fed, and adults emerge on the other side of things.
Why then do things sometimes go wrong, particularly for children who live in the intersection of the categories of Black or Brown and less wealth? The backgrounds from which many, if not most, Blerds are culled?
I believe that the narrative thread that exists in much of the media used in public school devalues these children. It teaches them that they matter less than their fair skinned peers. Take history and the social science for example; these children are only taught that their ancestors were slaves, that they contributed little or nothing besides labor to the construction of America, and that their collective history of resilience and brilliance in the face of Federal and State sponsored terrorism is best taught through the reductionist perspective of Negro Trivia Month once each year. In Georgia, the high school World History curriculum devotes approximately 2 out of 36 weeks of school to learning anything about Africa. By comparison, approximately 25 weeks are dedicated to the study of Europe in the same course. Even a well meaning teacher who recognized the glaring inequity and understood how the structure of the curriculum would impact students of African descent would be hard pressed to share anything culturally relevant or meaningful with his or her students in this course, given the current culture of high stakes testing and increased teacher accountability for student performance in any given course.
Again I say, If you want to know what a group of people believe to be true, then listen to their music, watch their television shows, read their books, magazines, and blog posts.Immerse yourself in their stories. Pay attention to the narratives in their media. Curriculum is media. Lesson plans are media. Textbooks are media. School is a space for the transmission of culture via the aforementioned media.
If a group within the larger group of a captive audience of children sees that they are not valued by the people and institutions that claim to have their best interests in mind, won’t their social, emotional, and intellectual growth be stunted? If the approved curriculum, which most educators, students, and parents accept to be right and true, devalues or ignores a subset of the whole, won’t these same people assume that this subset lacks value?
The thing about all of this is we can critique the media in schools using the exact same tools with which we critique the media on our televisions. We can create Hashtags, @ Departments of Education, create petitions, write Think pieces about curriculum, and basically make as much noise about an issue as we possibly can. I think that that’s a conversation worth having. Don’t you ?