What is a Curriculum?


Coming from a special education background, the term curriculum to me means an ever changing, ever adapting way of teaching subjects. I was taught that curriculum was a way to educate students and that it not only encompassed the manner in which information was being presented, but also the skills students will gain.

You can imagine my confusion when I started a professional career as a teacher and suddenly the term “curriculum” began being used to describe a purchased set of books that map out a certain type of teaching (what I referred to as a program).  An example of this happened just the other day when a parent co-worker asked me what math curriculum I preferred to use and then expected a program name for an answer.

As a progressive teacher, I struggle with the idea that a curriculum can be bought on a website or through a publisher. Yes, much of my teaching is derived from various math, reading, science and writing programs and experts (more on that in a post to come), but I feel that asking a strong progressive teacher about his or her curriculum is like asking about that person’s philosophy of education. Perhaps I’m getting lost in semantics, but I feel like this confusion is systematic of a larger issue in education.

The word curriculum is derived from a Latin word meaning “a running course, career.” For me, a curriculum is like a college road trip and it loses all it’s fun when you schedule out every stop along the way. A good curriculum needs room to move, to breath, to explore and venture into wonderful new worlds. Sure, it’s more likely you’ll end up in both interesting and troublesome spots along the way with this approach, but in the end you’ll have a great story to tell.

It takes a lot time and creativity to teach with an emphasis on students interests, strengths, abilities and the material that’s appropriate for them to learn rather than a particular approach that is being marketed. I would like to propose that, as educators, we draw a distinctive line between the term program and curriculum.


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