Is There Any Such Thing as Neutral Curriculum? [Van Brummelen's thoughts]

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Opinions on Van Brummelen’s “Stepping Stones to Curriculum”

How teachers view the world and how we orient ourselves determines in part what we choose to include in a curriculum as we teach students. Van Brummelen (2002) notes that our worldview “provides meaning, and it guides and directs the though and action of its adherents” (p. 25).

For example, the teacher who prefers the traditional or Christian orientation will teach students basic skills based upon previous knowledge, whereas the experientialist approach will reject any knowledge that isn't authentic or original to the actual learner.

While the traditional teacher may employ some hands-on activities from time-to-time, the experiential teacher relies on some book knowledge. This explains why the underlying philosophy of what and how to teach is diametrically different, the teachers approach the subject from different points of view.

Van Brummelen suggests that when developing a curriculum plan the teacher or administrator should keep four “societal frame factors” in mind: economic context, social context, political context and cultural context (p. 136-137). He also notes that while teachers must use the general guidelines of the textbook and “top-down directives” of the school or administration (p. 138), teachers can personalize the curriculum to suit their philosophy or worldview, based on six different aspects. To paraphrase Van Brummelen (p. 138), he suggests teachers prepare their lessons by:

1. Considering their worldview or orientation

2. Incorporating content or skills as required by their school or administration

3. Considering the needs and talents of the particular students in the class

4. Being mindful of resources and how to use them effectively

5. Getting help from other teachers who can help develop your skills

6. Asking for assistance from supervisors

While new teachers especially may have a difficult time deciding how they ought to take their own worldview and apply it to the textbook and lesson plans, I think the concepts of “relating your own worldview” closely relates to VanBrummelen’s third point of “considering the needs” of the class. Teachers who realize the limitations of their students may also be able to see the possibilities and potential in their students, and better realize when they should deviate from the textbook.

I also agree with Van Brummelen’s suggestion of asking for help from experience teachers or the administration with regards to planning and personalizing the curriculum as well. For example, a more experienced teacher may give the new teacher an idea of how to bring the textbook to life, or give pointers on sections of the textbook that are difficult or from secular history that are difficult to compare with the Christian perspective.

A Christian's central purpose should be to point out students to Christ. Nurturing students to recognize God’s handiwork, teaching them to understand how man fits into His handiwork, helping them realize their sin nature, guiding them through the Christian life and helping them develop their spiritual gifts and talents should be the core curriculum of the Christian school, notes VanBrummelen (p. 143-144).

References

Van Brummelen, H. (2002). Steppingstones to curriculum. Colorado Springs, CO: Purposeful Design Publications.

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