The Inner Curriculum

The outer curriculum is information -- what is a prism, how do you add fractions, the story of Columbus discovering America, the organization of the U.S. government, etc. The inner curriculum is learning to be the person who can use, understand, retain, and appreciate that information. In other words, the good learner. In other words, the person who can use the educational system, who the educational system is actually good for. Or it is like an inoculation, protecting your child against the bad effects of sitting in a classroom. But it is more than protection, it is also a translating device that allows them to translate the meaningless words of a classroom into ideas they can understand and use.

There are two different ways of approaching the idea of an inner curriculum.

Explanation #1

Consider the science project of taking 3 fruits, "dissecting" them, and trying to discover the regularities in fruits. You could do this same project for leaves, or sunsets, or drops of water. But you can't do this for every topic you would want your students to know about. There are a lot of topics that simply defy physical examination. For example, you can examine the molecular properties of water, because your students can't see molecules, do into a thunderstorm, or investigate the big-bang and dark holes, etc.

So, sooner or later, your students are going to have to read about phenomena they cannot investigate. My point is this. When they read, they are supposed to be seeing that reading as an extension of the same process. Obviously, when they read they should not just be memorizing words. Instead, they should understand that they are reading about the regularities in a phenomena, regularities that someone else has abstracted. For example, when they read about thunderstorms, they absolutely must have the concept that there are regularities in a thunderstorm. Without that concept, they are just memorizing words. They of course must also realize that they are not reading about a particular thunderstorm, that thunderstorms are all different, and that what is being described are the regularities.

So the idea is this. When students actually search for regularities, they are building the conceptual skills they need to understand what they later read.

Teaching Inner Curriculum

An algorithm for teaching inner curriculum is having the students do as much as they can without reading. How much geography can my daughters do on their own? We can buy a map, then go to places we have not been. We will learn about local geography. Perhaps we can extend it a little to U.S. geography. And then they have to read, but hopefully they have the conceptual apparatus to understand their reading as an extension of our geographical explorations.

History? They can go back about 70 years by talking to their grandparents. How has the world changed? Why has it changed?

Explanation #2

After a year of teaching mathematics, I have decided that the most important thing to teach is how to do mathematics. To be more accurate, I would have always agreed that this was the most important thing. But I didn't know what students needed to learn. Now I know. First, math is not the mindless manipulation of symbols. Instead, it requires understanding. First, the student must understand what he or she is learning; second, the student must understand the to-be-solved problem whethe student should understand the problem. Second, absorption is important -- absorption is required to learn and to solve problems.

Of course, no teacher would argue against understanding (though in practice some do occasionally teach the mindless manipulation of symbols -- it is a natural temptation). The question is how to teach it.

Goals of Education

Once they are listed I am sure that everyone will agree that students should have these skills. If you think students already have these skills, I ask that you check to make sure you are right.

An Inner Curriculum for Science