Sunday, February 07, 2010

Books, must read: CURRICULUM 21, edited by Heidi Hayes Jacobs

Most of us are buried under piles of must-read books on educational topics, but I'm afraid I generally prefer books whose prefaces and cover blurbs don't tell the whole story--a common failing of education books. Thus, when Curriculum 21: Essential Education for a Changing World (ASCD, 2010) arrived as a premium with my ASCD membership, I read the back and started the Introduction without expecting much.

Don't get me wrong. I've been a fan of Heidi Hayes Jacobs, who edited the book and wrote the key early chapters, ever since spending the better part of a week in a workshop with her and Grant Wiggins in 1994; I'm a long-time believe in curriculum mapping, and every time I've heard Dr. Jacobs since then I've come away with lots of good ideas and inspiration. Nonetheless, I tend to put my ASCD member books in pile to be skimmed at some future point and then read carefully only if the skim captivates me. Well, it's the truth; there are are other things I like to read more.

Jacobs' introduction to Curriculum 21 starts perilously close to edu-porn, about which I've written earlier, starting with the usual 21st-century indictments of the work writers seem to enjoy accusing many schools of continuing to do: "What year are you preparing your students for? 1973? 1995?"

But quickly enough the justification and the overview give way to Chapter One, "A New Essential Curriculum for a New Time," that lays out an excellent case for change. In the following chapters Jacobs even suggests an entirely practical process for initiating and working through this change.

For the rest of Curriculum 21, Jacobs and the books other contributors--including Steven Wilmarth, Vivian Stewart, Tim Tyson, Frank W. Baker, David Niguidula, Jaimie P. Cloud, Alan November, Bill Sheskey, Arthur L. Costa, and Bena Kallick--make not only the case for incorporating the full menu of 21st-century skills--including 21st-century habits of mind, from Costa and Kallick--but also some plausible, do-able ideas for doing the work.

It's pretty extraordinary: powerful case statements by the educational leaders most associated with the program elements generally regarded as the foundation stones of 21st-century curriculum, written in a style that is neither shrill nor hectoring. Curriculum 21 offers a rare thing, which is a mature, measured perspective on the best practices that will inform the work of schools in the decades to come.

What I like best is that the authors, Jacobs and all the rest, write in a way that feels grounded in the educational history that has come before, incorporating the new understandings of cognition, child development, and curriculum and assessment design that educators have gained in the last half-century or so. They even suggest that students and teachers are human beings with a range of responses to change--and that the process of change needs to acknowledge this. Yes, it's progressive, even New Progressive.

So, to haul out a cliche that seems especially apt, if you read only one book on 21st-century education this year--and there are plenty of choices around--check out Curriculum 21. You will actually want to read, and learn from, this one.

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