Making Room for Uncertainty in the Required Curriculum

Poking through my feed reader this morning, I stumbled across a Mindshift KQED article that I think every educator ought to read.

Titled How to Spark Curiosity in Children through Embracing Uncertainty, it makes a simple argument:  Instruction centered on facts that have already been settled fails today’s students.  “Without insight into the holes in our knowledge,” author Linda Flanagan writes, “students mistakenly believe that some subjects are closed. They lose humility and curiosity in the face of this conceit.”

Slide - Scientific Discovery

I worry about that argument because I’m held accountable for teaching a massive curriculum that is slam-packed full of settled facts.

While I believe in the importance of developing students who are willing to grope and probe and poke their way through moments of uncertainty — who are as comfortable NOT knowing as they are with having the right answers — the simple truth is that facilitating experiences that allow students to wrestle with uncertainty takes time that I just don’t have.  If moments of genuine discovery are going to make their way into my classroom, something has to give — and that ‘something’ is going to end up being content that is currently listed in my ‘required’ curriculum.

And THAT’s what drives me nuts about being a classroom teacher in today’s world.

There’s a constant tension between what we SAY we want our students to know and be able to do and what we LIST as priorities in our mandated pacing guides.  Almost twenty years into the 21st Century, we continue give lip service to the importance of things like creativity, communication, collaboration and critical thinking, but we create no real space for that kind of content in our school, district and/or state curricula guides.  Worse yet, we do nothing to assess those skills.  Instead, we are still holding students and schools accountable for nothing more than the mastery of settled facts.

That has to change.  Plain and simple.



Related Radical Reads:

How Testing Will Change What I Teach Next Year.

Walking Moral Tightropes ISN’T a Reform Strategy

Bulldozing the Forests

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  • Anonymous

    Well stated and so very true.

    Well stated and so very true.

  • ReneeMoore

    Double standard of classroom instruction?


    I admit to having the same reaction as you to those who insist we should be doing more inquiry based learning in our classrooms. “Let the students’ own interests drive the curriculum” “Genius Hour”..etc. All sound great, and probably are wonderful for the children whose teachers can and will do it.

    But what about those many teachers who are in schools/districts that tightly prescribe teachers’ time and topics in the classroom? I’m thinking of many of my colleagues who must slavishly follow a pacing guide purchased by the district (usually from some consultant firm). The administrators closely monitor the teachers to make sure everyone is literally on the same page on the same day. What about the folks working in districts like the one I was, who got memos from the superintendent ordering us not to “waste time” having students doing research papers or oral presentations because that’s not covered on any of the state tests.

    These scenarios, as far as I know, occur with much greater frequency in schools that serve poor and minority children. The sick logic being that “these kids” need more emphasis on basic skills and more structured learning environments (aka–we need to make them more compliant). Some of the people who make and follow these policies think they are really helping our children, by holding off things like critical thinking, creativity, or academically challenging material until they are “ready” to handle it. This paternalistic nonsense flies in the face of all we know about real learning.

    But when I think about it, I don’t really blame the advocates of the more innovative teaching and learning, as much as I resent those who impose a lower quality of education on children like mine under the guise of academic achievement. As you well know, individual teachers are limited in our ability to push against such policies, particularly in these right to work states. Which is one of the main reasons historically teachers moved toward unions; it takes collective action to defend students and ourselves from poor learning/working conditions, or to change policies and laws.

    I would love to see across the Southeastern states in particular, a renewed movement uniting teachers and parents in the fight for high quality education for all children. That was an important part of the Civil Rights Movement that got shortcircuited, and in many ways, co-opted before it could achieve its goal.