I have been contemplating three topics over the past (nearly) two months. One is in regards to children's classes and primary school in general. Do you recall how you felt in a children's class and primary school when you were of tender years? Did you find it to be a place of joy, discovery, and wonder? If not, then - why not?
I have heard the use of two words that give me pause about any curriculum that weighs them more heavily than the concept of 'joy'. Those two words are - 'substantive' and 'rigor'.
What portion of a curriculum is substantive for learning?
Do you suppose that memorizing facts is the substantive portion and all else is useless?
Recall that one of my previous articles mentioned memorization as a powerful technique. Well, if I didn't make it clear in that article, then let me do so here. Memorization is not the only technique to be used and should not be used to the exclusion of the creative arts, especially with children. In fact, using the arts is substantive [read this article] and improves math, reading ability, and reasoning ability, among other intellectual and emotional areas of growth (including memorizing - count the number of lyrics you know).
I mention the creative arts because I have met people who see education through the eyes of the 19th century. Education to them is substantive only if the classroom is orderly and the students listen attentively to the teacher. Also, in this view, the teacher is the one speaking and the students merely copy his/her authoritative words.
Even recreational play is useful for both personal and social growth. [Consider reading the following articles related to the benefits of playtime - (1), (2).]
When play takes on the form of organized play (creative arts), it can be the most effective method of teaching.
From Abdu'l-Baha, "The art of music is divine and effective. It is the food of the soul and spirit. Through the power and charm of music the spirit of man is uplifted. It has wonderful sway and effect in the hearts of children, for their hearts are pure, and melodies have great influence in them. The latent talents with which the hearts of these children are endowed will find expression through the medium of music. Therefore, you must exert yourselves to make them proficient; teach them to sing with excellence and effect. It is incumbent upon each child to know something of music, for without knowledge of this art the melodies of instrument and voice cannot be rightly enjoyed (The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p.52)."
Also from Abdu'l-Baha, "The drama is of utmost importance. It has been a great educational power in the past; it will be so again (Abdu'l-Baha in London, p.93)."
Imagine then a classroom where music and drama, in addition to other forms of artistic expression, are used regularly to form a truly substantive curriculum.
The term rigor has been used in public education quite often and I have been told of two definitions. I had once heard that it meant a curriculum that included depth of knowledge in various subjects. Today, it most often implies a curriculum that has the essential elements and facts necessary for a more complete understanding of a subject (i.e. the teacher has covered all of the details in a subject and not left anything important out). The problem with today's use of the term is that, like most educational concepts, it gets used to justify outdated ways of teaching. What do I mean by outdated? All ways of teaching that have been shown to have either a detrimental effect or no effect on improving learning.
Definitions of rigor include:
1. strictness or severity, as in temperment, action, or judgment.
2. a harsh or trying circumstance; hardship.
3. a harsh or cruel act.
Which definition of rigor seems to apply to education? Here is an article to read concerning rigor and joy by Alfie Kohn - click here
I ask you to look through the Baha'i Scripture and comment on rigor and joy in reference to education. I'll do the same and look to add to this posting in the near future.