Lessons Taught, Lessons Learned Vol. I
CULTURE, COMMUNITY AND THE CURRICULUM
University of Alaska Fairbanks
This article was originally published by the
Center for Cross Cultural Studies, University of Alaska Fairbanks, 1981.
Any approach to educational development is a multi-faceted
affair, with many dimensions on which decisions must be made, and numerous
alternatives from which to choose on each dimension. Of primary importance,
however, is that the alternatives selected be commonly understood and agreed
upon, and that they reflect consistency from one dimension to the next.
A common thread throughout most formal education programs for minority people
has been the relative absence of either of these conditions. Only rarely
are the ends toward which minority programs are directed made explicit,
and when they are, different interpretations exist so that the means used
to attain the ends are often inconsistent and sometimes conflicting.
The School and the Curriculum
The four basic dimensions of any educational program are, 1) the
goals or function, 2) the content, 3) the structure, and 4) the methods
used. If an approach is to be effective, all four dimensions must be functionally
integrated, and consistent with the underlying processes through which they
interact to form a whole. That is, each dimension must be mutually reinforcing
of each of the other dimensions if the total educational experience is to
be cumulative and integrative for the student. To achieve such interrelatedness
requires close attention to underlying processes of education, such as communication,
cognition, and social interaction. We will examine some alternative goals
and content for education as they relate to those processes first, and then
turn to the structure and method through which they may be attained. In
each dimension we will work toward a cross-cultural approach in the development
of educational programs and practices for cultural minorities.
Schools: For what purpose?
One of the most difficult, yet most important tasks in the
design of any educational program is to make explicit the goals toward which
the program is directed. When the task is complicated by such extensive
and pervasive educational functions as those of potential interest to the
school, and by the often conflicting and divergent expectations regarding
schools in a minority setting, it often appears insurmountable. It is necessary,
nevertheless, to attempt such a task, and we shall do so by first examining
some of the goals of education in general, and then looking at the two most
commonly espoused goals for minority education-"cultural assimilation" and
"cultural pluralism". An alternative goal of "cultural eclecticism" will
then be offered as the basis for the ensuing discussion.
In most instances, school goals are bound to universalistic
intellectual or social functions associated with the dominant society. The
most explicit function to which the schools are directed is to the inculcation
of the particular knowledge and skills deemed necessary for individual participation
in the larger society. This is sometimes refined to place a more specific
emphasis on the development of the mind, with a primary concern for factual
knowledge and intellectual skills. In other situations, the emphasis is
placed exclusively on the development of particular occupational or practical
skills. Either approach is obviously narrowly selective from the totality
of human experience, and is inevitably bound to a specific cultural definition
of appropriate knowledge and skills. A less direct, but often explicit function
attributed to the school is that of developing "citizenship" and the appropriate
attitudes and understandings necessary for participation in a democratic
society. Again, the emphasis is on preparation for the roles and expectations
associated with membership in the larger society.
Some of the least direct and least explicit functions of the
school become apparent when it is viewed in the context of cultural minority
education. The traditional intellectual and social functions indicated above
are then confounded by the additional and seemingly invidious factors associated
with cultural differences, such as conflicting values, varied learning styles,
diverse behavior patterns, non-conforming social allegiances, and alternative
perceptions of reality. These factors, when thrust into the amalgam of traditional
school policies and practices, reveal the extent to which the school serves
a concomitant function of inducing acculturative influences in the domains
of values, attitudes, beliefs and social behavior. In an effort to more
directly accommodate these additional cultural factors, schools involved
with minority education have been called upon to adopt some variant of the
goals of cultural assimilation or cultural pluralism.
Though it is rarely made explicit, and is often unintended,
one of the most distinguishing features of schools in cultural minority
settings is their overwhelming press toward assimilation into mainstream
cultural patterns. Whether intentional or not, the basic thrust of schooling
is toward the breaking down of particularistic orientations and developing
in their place, a universalistic orientation. Even where accommodations
are made to include ethnic studies or bilingual education in the curriculum
content, the structure, method, and processes through which the content
is organized and transmitted are usually reflective of mainstream patterns
and exert a dominant influence on the student (cf., Bayne, 1969). Schools
are agents of the dominant society and as such, they reflect the underlying
cultural patterns of that society. As long as they reflect the structure
and social organization of the dominant society, they can be expected to
perpetuate its values, attitudes, and behavior patterns within an implicit
framework of assimilation.
What then, does a school goal of assimilation have to offer
the cultural minority, and what are some of its limitations? On the surface,
a cultural assimilation orientation would seem to offer the minority student
an opportunity to gain access to the skills and resources necessary to participate
in the larger society on equal terms with others. This expectation often
goes unfulfilled, however, because of the school's inability to adequately
respond to the differences in learning styles associated with differences
in thought, communication and social interaction on the part of the minority
student. Consequently, the requisite skills are not learned, status differentials
are reinforced, and access to societal resources is further impeded, thus
thwarting the minority students' aspirations. The school cannot contribute
effectively to the assimilation process without careful attention to the
unique cultural conditions out of which the minority student emerges.
If assimilation is desired and is to be achieved in full by
a cultural minority, it must be supported by social, political and economic
forces beyond those available through the school. Though the school may
serve a useful, and even necessary function in the assimilation process,
it cannot accomplish the task alone (cf., St. Lawrence and Singleton, 1976).
If cultural assimilation is not desired, alternative goals must be adequately
articulated so as to be able to assess the extent to which schools may or
may not be able to contribute to their attainment. One such alternative
goal that has received widespread attention is that of cultural pluralism.
Whereas assimilation stresses the ways of the dominant society,
cultural pluralism is intended to stress the ways of the minority society.
Cultural pluralism is advocated as an educational goal by those who seek
a pluralistic, multi-cultural society in which each ethnic, racial or religious
group contributes to the larger society within the context of its own unique
cultural traditions (cf., Banks, 1976). The school's task, therefore, is
to recognize the minority culture and to assist the student to function
more effectively within that culture. Heavy emphasis is placed on ethnic
studies and minority language programs, but, as pointed out earlier, these
are usually offered within the traditional structural framework of the school
and have only tangential effect in terms of minority development goals.
The primary beneficial effects are in the symbolic implications of the formal
recognition of the minority group's existence by the school, and in the
access to broader societal resources and experience by the minority group
members who are employed to carry them out. Such access can result in positive
influences of minority groups on the functioning of the school.
As presently espoused, however, with an emphasis on cultural
autonomy and homogeneity, cultural pluralism falls short of being a realistic
goal toward which the schools may direct their efforts. In addition to participating
in various was in the cultural traditions of their own society, most (if
not all), minority group members also participate in varying degrees in
the cultural traditions of the larger society. To maintain true cultural
pluralism, a structural separation of cultural groups must exist (Gordon,
1964), and this is not the case in American society, with the school being
but one example of structural interaction. Different cultural groups interact
with each other in various ways for various purposes, resulting in diffuse
acculturative influences and constant adaptation, within the context of
a national social order. Under such conditions, the goals of education must
necessarily extend beyond minority group boundaries, if the student is to
be prepared for the larger social reality s/he will face as an adult.
Even if cultural pluralism were to
be viewed as a realistic goal (and it may be, under certain conditions of
oppression), we would still have the problem of using an institutional artifact
of one society (i.e., the school) to promote the cultural traditions of
another. To change the subject-matter (content) without a concomitant change
in the structure, method and processes through which that content is conveyed,
may in the end, only strengthen rather than weaken the influences of the
larger society. To achieve educational independence does not necessarily
lead to cultural independence, if the educational experiences remain within
the structural framework of the dominant culture.
It would appear then, that neither
extreme of complete cultural assimilation or separation is appropriate or
adequate as an educational goal, nor are either realistically attainable
through the traditional framework of the school. We must, therefore, seek
an alternative goal that rests on the middle ground between assimilation
and pluralism, and then devise a means by which such a goal might be achieved.
Since there are features of both the assimilationist and pluralist
perspectives which seem desirable in developing educational programs for
minorities, we will devise an eclectic approach, which allows for minority
selection and adaptation of those features which they deem most desirable,
and attempts to overcome the previously stated limitations. The goal of
this approach will be referred to, therefore, as "cultural eclecticism."
This is not to imply that the school is to present a hodgepodge of cultural
practices from which students choose at whim, but rather that the school
will assist the student in understanding the nature of the diverse experiences
which are a natural part of his/her existence, and thus contribute to the
development of an integrated cultural perspective suitable to the student's
needs and circumstances.
In developing an eclectic approach, we are assuming that each
minority group has unique characteristics that distinguish it from other
groups, and that all groups share characteristics common to the larger society.
We are also assuming that variations exist within and between groups, in
orientation toward minority vs. dominant cultural characteristics. Some
individuals and some groups wish to stress the minority culture, while others
are oriented toward the dominant culture, with still others desiring the
"best of both worlds." Our concern then is with the development of an educational
approach that respects this vast diversity, while introducing everyone to
the range of options available, so that they themselves are able to exercise
some degree of choice in their individual or group life style and goals.
Such an approach must recognize the multifaceted and dynamic nature of a
large, complex, open, continually evolving society, and must allow for the
varied cultural expressions of ethnic, religious and political beliefs and
practices within the broader framework of that society. It is through such
variation and diversity that the vitality of the society at large is maintained,
and our understanding of the range of human potential and capabilities is
deepened. We are building, therefore, on the notion of "multiculturalism
as the normal human experience" (Goodenough, 1976) and are attempting to
make evident and accommodate to a condition that already exists, but is
Thus, we present a goal of "cultural eclecticism" for minority
education, in which features of both the assimilationist and pluralist ideologies
are incorporated with the emphasis on an evolutionary form of cultural diversity
to be attained through the informed choices and actions of individuals well
grounded in the dynamics of human and cultural interaction processes. Eclecticism
implies an open-ended process (rather than a dead-ended condition) whereby
individuals or groups can adapt and define the functions of the school in
response to their changing needs, assuming that they understand those functions
and are in a position to influence school programs sufficiently to make
them fully compatible with their needs. How then, might the school be made
flexible enough, in structure and method, as well as content, to accommodate
such potentially diverse demands?
To respond to that question, we will build upon the perspectives
outlined above, seeking ways to restructure the social organization of the
school so as to foster a closer linkage between socialization and formal
education processes. To accomplish this, we will work toward an experiential,
community-based approach to learning, in which what is learned derives its
meaning from the context in which it is learned. We will begin with an examination
of instructional content, since the structure and method we develop should
be built upon and consistent with what it is we are trying to teach. The
content should, in turn, reflect the full range of processual and situational
features necessary to achieve the goal of cultural eclecticism. With such
a goal in mind, we will turn now to the development of a curriculum framework
for minority education.
Curriculum, in its conventional usage, refers to the "scope
and sequence" of the subject-matter conveyed in a school. Curriculum development,
therefore, generally focuses on the selection and organization of specific
knowledge and skills to fit particular developmental needs of the student
and the unique operational structure of the school. Curriculum development
usually does not explicitly address the social context in which learning
takes place, nor does it consider the underlying cultural processes by which
the content is acquired and utilized. These considerations are usually implicit
to the cultural framework from which the curriculum is derived, with the
school considered a "given" in that framework.
As the previous discussion has indicated, however, content,
context and process are all intertwined, so that any one dimension can be
affected by cultural variables and thus affect the outcome of the educational
process. In the context of this discussion, curriculum development will,
therefore, encompass all discernible dimensions that enter into the determination
and implementation of the directed learning experiences by the school. From
this perspective, the scope and sequence of the curriculum will be extended
to include the interaction between content, process and context, and thus
go beyond the usual culture-bound determinations that are associated with
an emphasis on content alone. The approach developed here will proceed from
an assumption of the unique social and cultural conditions of the child
as a "given," rather than the universality of a particular body of knowledge
or a particular mode of learning. We will begin the discussion on the latter
assumptions, however, with a look at the subject-oriented approach currently
reflected in school curriculum, and then move toward a more cross-culturally
The approach to curriculum design currently reflected in the
schools is drawn from the classical Western tradition of the categories
of knowledge. In their most general form, these categories are represented
by the major academic disciplines of the humanities, social sciences, natural
sciences, mathematics, languages, and aesthetics. In their more specific
form, they are represented by the list of typical subjects taught in the
schools today. At the elementary level, this includes subjects such as the
language arts (reading, writing, spelling), arithmetic, science, social
studies, and art. At the secondary level, the categories become more specialized
with subjects such as history, literature, algebra, biology, drama, and
French. If a secondary program includes a vocational emphasis, the curriculum
may extend beyond the knowledge categories to include a variety of occupational
skill-oriented subjects, under general headings such as industrial arts,
distributive education (business), home economics, or agriculture.
In all of these subjects, the emphasis is on transmitting
a predetermined body of knowledge or a particular set of skills from those
who possess such knowledge or skills to those who do not. Thus, to a large
extent in a subject-oriented curriculum, the learning process becomes subordinate
to, or is determined by the nature of the content. Such an approach to curriculum
presents at least two sets of problems in minority education, one in regard
to content, and another in regard to process.
The content problems derive from the presumption that the
classical Western categories of knowledge are universally applicable and
can be appropriately adapted to any learning situation. In an examination
of the academic disciplines as a basis for curriculum planning, Lawton (1975:
72) identifies four different justifications for their use:
1) Because reality is like that. The disciplines are presumed
to be close approximations of how the "real world" is organized.
2) Because different sorts of questions are being asked.
The various disciplines use different approaches to gain alternative perspectives
on the world.
3) Because children develop in that way. The disciplines
reflect the processes by which children classify experience.
4) Because disciplines promote more economical learning.
The disciplines provide a structure for organizing and disciplining thought,
and thus, simplify understanding.
Such justifications for the disciplines may be considered
adequate if viewed within the context of a culturally uniform and stable
Westernized society. They do not, however, take into account the confounding
variables created when the disciplines are confronted by cultural perspectives
divergent from those reflected in the Western categories. The categories
used to analyze and organize reality from an academic perspective often
have little relation to the categories required to carry out the functions
of everyday life and, therefore, often appear irrelevant or artificial outside
the academic context. If the categories of learning employed by the school
cannot be tied to the experiences of the student, they will not stimulate
much interest or understanding.
Another problem with the subject-matter approach to curriculum
content has to do with the emphasis on static, discrete knowledge and skills
in a rapidly changing and expanding social and cultural environment. Although
the subject areas of the curriculum are occasionally updated (often in a
piecemeal fashion, however) to account for new understandings and changing
societal conditions (e.g., "new math," computer programming, or "modern
art"), much of what is taught remains rooted in out-moded knowledge and
obsolete skills. An emphasis on knowledge and skills will inevitably reflect
a lag between what is known and what is taught, and thus provide little
preparation for the changing conditions of the future, and may even necessitate
unlearning as new conditions are encountered.
In addition, the subject approach separates knowledge into
discrete categories which are dealt with independently of one another, disregarding
the overlap and inter-connectedness between subjects. The student who is
not acquainted with the cultural patterns that would normally serve to integrate
academic subjects with one another and with reality, will find their content
disjointed, unpredictable, and thus of little value. The task of transforming
academic subjects into a meaningful and coherent educational experience
is difficult enough with Anglo students who are presumably already familiar
with the requisite underlying cultural patterns of organization and use.
To do so with minority students for whom such "equivalence structures' may
not be available requires more resources than are available to the teacher
or the school. Modifications in content or teaching method to make the subjects
more palatable or to "fit the student's abilities and interests," are of
minimal value without situational and processual changes as well.
This brings us to the process problem associated with the
subject-oriented curriculum. This problem derives from what Freire (1971)
has critically labeled the "banking concept" of traditional schooling, in
which "knowledge is a gift bestowed by those who consider themselves knowledgeable
upon those whom they consider to know nothing" (p. 58). Though Freire presents
his case in the framework of cultural oppression, his analysis of the attitudes
and practices that accompany a traditional educational approach is not limited
to such conditions. He lists the following as characteristics of the banking
concept of education (p. 59):
a) the teacher teaches and the students are taught;
b) the teacher knows everything and the students know nothing;
c) the teacher thinks and the students are thought about;
d) the teacher talks and the students listen-meekly;
e) the teacher disciplines and the students are disciplined;
f) the teacher chooses and enforces his choice, and the
g) the teacher acts and the students have the illusion of
acting through the action of the teacher,
h) the teacher chooses the program content, and the students
(who were not consulted) adapt to it;
i) the teacher confuses the authority of knowledge with
his own professional authority, which he sets in opposition to the freedom
of the students;
j) the teacher is the subject of the learning process, while
the pupils are mere objects.
Though this may state the condition in the extreme, it illustrates
how the academic world of knowledge and learning can become disassociated
from the experiential realities outside the school, and potentially interfere
with the student's own processes of inquiry. When viewed in a minority context,
the implicit patterns of interaction and cultural assumptions that are reflected
in the banking concept (as an expression of the subject-matter approach),
are clearly stacked against the student. The teacher's authority is predominant
and the student's role is that of passive recipient.
The problem lies not with the teacher or the student, but
with the structural framework within which the teacher and student interact.
The educational process leaves little room for accommodating to the unique
cultural and situational needs of the minority student (cf., Chance, 1973).
Even when the curriculum content is opened up to include subject matter
electives such as "ethnic studies" or "bilingual education," the content
is still cast in the structural and processual framework of prevailing educational
ideology, with only limited opportunities for alternative categories of
reality and patterns of interaction to be included. Community patterns and
categories are modified to fit the framework of the school, rather than
the school modifying its patterns and categories to fit the framework of
the community. In effect, all responsibility for establishing equivalence
structures is relegated to the student.
The subject-oriented curriculum appears to be inadequate,
therefore, in both content and process of instruction, for the educational
needs and circumstances of cultural minority students. The content is often
divorced from the experiential and situational framework of the student,
and the resultant process is usually culturally biased. Such an approach
to curriculum design obviously cannot contribute much to the goal of cultural
eclecticism. If we are to overcome these limitations, we must seek an alternative
form of curriculum content that is applicable to a wider range of cultural
conditions and allows for greater flexibility in the processes of instruction.
One approach to the alleviation of some of the problems of
a subject-oriented curriculum in minority education becomes evident when
we rephrase the core curriculum development issue of "What should the schools
teach?" to "How do the students learn?" The emphasis is immediately shifted
from content to process, and from the school to the student. Such a shift
does not negate the need for content, but recasts it as a means, rather
than an end, and it establishes the student's need to learn as the
determinant of the instructional process. We must, therefore, anticipate
the varied and changing needs of the student, and provide a curriculum that
can accommodate to those needs. If students are to be prepared to cope with
new and changing conditions, they must be exposed to more than current factual
knowledge and occupational skills. They must be familiar with the generalized
processes by which such knowledge and skills are acquired and utilized under
new and unforeseen conditions. They must learn, for example, how to think,
communicate, organize, interact, make decisions, solve problems, and assign
priorities, but most of all, they must learn how to learn.
A curriculum design built around processes such as these can,
in addition to better preparing a student to encounter the unknown, accommodate
a wider range of patterns by which an understanding of present and future
conditions may be acquired and utilized. An open-ended, process-oriented
curriculum is potentially less culture-bound, and thus may be more readily
adapted to alternative settings without intruding on their cultural and
situational variability. If appropriately conceived, process skills can
be taught by building on those patterns indigenous of the background of
the student, and then extending the processes to include the patterns of
the wider community. To the extent that a minority student is able to employ
such process skills in his/her daily encounters within his/her own and the
larger society, s/he will be better able to blend those encounters into
a lifestyle and world view that will contribute to the goal of cultural
Obviously, this can happen only under conditions in which
the social, cultural and institutional milieus are able to nurture the development
and exercising of such skills-conditions which are not easily attainable
in the society at large, let alone in minority communities. As a step in
that direction, however, the schools can formulate a curriculum that has
as its purpose the development of process-oriented persons who possess the
intellectual and social skills indicated above, and consequently, "are able
to handle themselves and the situations of which they are a part with adequacy
and ease" (Berman, 1968: 10). Just as the persons who make up contemporary
society must possess a degree of flexibility, adaptability, creativity,
and tolerance to accommodate to rapidly changing conditions, so must the
curriculum reflect such characteristics if it is to effectively contribute
to the educational development of those persons. Processes, with their open-endedness
and capacity for self-renewal, can provide the basis for such a curriculum
Process, in its general sense, may be defined as "a function
of change in the relationships among variables" (Kimball 1976: 269). More
specifically, when applied within the domain of human influence, process
refers to the use of particular rules, methods, procedures, actions, or
operations to reorganize events, conditions, or energies toward some end.
Within the context of education, "process" may be further restricted to
refer to "the cluster of diverse procedures that surround the acquisition
and utilization of knowledge" (Parker and Rubin, 1966: 1). Since our interests
here are not in the full range of natural or man-made processes encompassed
by the first two definitions, we will settle on the latter definition, but
include in our discussion the social as well as intellectual processes associated
with teaching and learning. In that context, we may consider processes at
two levels-in terms of process as content, and in terms of the processes
At the first level, we are concerned with the content of education.
If process skills are to become the "end" and the content is to serve as
a means to that end, then the content itself should be organized around
processes. In a process-oriented curriculum, therefore, processes should
be reflected in the content, so that what is taught is consistent with the
goal toward which the teaching is directed. One way by which this may be
accomplished is to replace the traditional list of academic subjects with
a list of appropriate general processes and devise an educational program
aimed at developing an understanding of those processes. Such a process-oriented
curriculum could overcome many of the limitations of the traditional subject-oriented
approach. An outline of the content of such a curriculum is offered by Berman
(1968), who identifies the following process skills as the minimum essential
ingredients: perceiving, communicating, loving, decision-making, knowing,
organizing, creating, and valuing. In her model, these skills would serve
as the core around which the educational program would be organized. She
presents several alternative organizing schemes, some that emphasize processes
alone, and others that blend processes with the traditional subjects.
Another effort to employ process as content in school learning
is that of Parker and Rubin (1966), who summarize the tasks to which process-oriented
curriculum developers must address themselves as follows:
1) A retooling of subject matter to illuminate base structure,
and to insure that knowledge which generates knowledge takes priority
over knowledge which does not.
2) An examination of the working methods of the intellectual
practitioner, the biologist, the historian, the political scientist, for
the significant processes of their craft, and the use of these processes
in our classroom instruction.
3) The utilization of the evidence gathered from a penetrating
study of people doing things, as they go about the business of life, in
reordering the curriculum.
4) A deliberate effort to school the child in the conditions
for cross-application of the processes he has mastered-the ways and means
of putting them to good use elsewhere (p. 48).
They too, offer several models for incorporating processes
into the standard curriculum, with a particular focus on the reformulation
of subject-matter to emphasize the underlying structure, rather than the
surface features. They seek to use subject content to acquaint students
with the processes by which knowledge is formulated and put to use. Their
concern, therefore, is with inquiry processes, such as analysis, inference,
classification, synthesis, integration, and evaluation. They caution, however,
that extensive study is necessary before we can determine which processes
may be appropriately incorporated in the curriculum. "What seems most clear
is the pressing need to research the kinds of processes inherent in different
subject matter and to determine how and where they are most useful to the
purpose of the school" (p. 51). The tendency to limit process education
to the intellectual domain (cf., Cole, 1972) is one of the drawbacks that
needs to be overcome if such an approach is to address the broader communication
and social interaction processes referred to earlier.
Both of the approaches to a process-oriented curriculum described
above go a long way in reorganizing the curriculum content to shift its
emphasis into a process framework which is more readily accommodating to
the learning needs of minority students. Neither approach, however, goes
far enough in addressing the second-level question of "How are these process
skills to be learned?". To change the content of the curriculum to include
processes is not adequate if the structural framework in which those processes
are to be learned is not itself changed to reflect the process emphasis.
If students continue to sit in a typical classroom setting, under the authority
of a teacher, and proceed to learn only about processes, in the same manner
in which they learn about history or science, they will not make much progress
over the traditional subject-oriented curriculum. Parker and Rubin point
out the need for an alternative teaching approach when they state that "the
requirements posed by a process-based curriculum deal primarily with the
identification of worthwhile processes to which students should be exposed,
the design of instructional strategies that make effective use of the processes,
and the realignment of subject matter so that it complements the instructional
strategies" (p. 44). Berman also acknowledges the need for a revised approach
to teaching in her statement of the conditions necessary to acquire process
skills. She lists those conditions as:
1) the opportunity to experience the use of the skill in a wide
variety of contexts and,
2) the chance to verbalize the meaning of the skill so an
interplay can exist between the logical and the intuitive (p. 10).
The experiential emphasis implied by Berman coincides with
the need to bring schooling in closer alignment with community socialization
processes. What we need then is a way to link the content of a process-oriented
curriculum to the experiential and situational framework of everyday life,
so that what is learned and how it is learned can be more effectively merged
into a meaningful whole. We also need a flexible and adaptive curriculum
design that will accommodate the diverse needs of minority students, and
that can be incorporated into a school program in various ways and to various
degrees, since the existing curriculum is not likely to be wholly transformed
to accommodate a totally different approach. As a means of synthesizing
the promising aspects of the approaches described above into a coherent
framework for minority education, we will focus now on the development of
a project-centered curriculum design.
We now have two frameworks within which to establish curriculum
content categories and organize learning activities-the subject-oriented
curriculum built around the academic disciplines, and the process-oriented
curriculum built around the procedures associated with the acquisition and
utilization of knowledge, though the latter needs to be expanded to include
social processes as well. The subject-oriented approach appears to be least
accommodating to the immediate needs of minority students, but it has the
force of tradition behind it and serves functions compatible with the needs
of the society at large, and, therefore, cannot be disregarded. The process-oriented
approach, on the other hand, has greater potential for the adaptation of
curriculum content to fit varied cultural settings, but does not adequately
move that content into an everyday experiential framework where it can be
tested against reality and put to use.
As a means of integrating the useful features of the subject
and process orientations outlined above and putting them into a functional
experiential framework for minority students, we will explore a project-centered
approach to curriculum design and instruction. In pursuing such an approach,
we are seeking to establish a framework that has maximum flexibility, so
that it can be used at all levels, in varying situations, and to any degree
considered desirable or appropriate by the school and/or community.
The term project, as used here, refers to a planned task or
problem undertaken by one or more persons for the purpose of achieving some
goal. A more specific definition is provided by Harrison and Hopkins (1967:
455) in reference to a cross-cultural training program, where "project"
is used to refer to a process-oriented activity requiring a learner to:
1) Obtain information from the social environment (communication);
2) Formulate and test hypotheses about forces and processes
present in the environment (diagnosis);
3) Select and describe some part of the situation which
is to be changed or altered (problem definition);
4) Plan action to solve the problem (commitment, risk-taking);
5) Carry out the action, enlisting the help and cooperation
of others (influencing and organizing);
6) Verbalize attitudes, perceptions and tentative learnings
from the experience (cognition and generalization).
Though Harrison's and Hopkins' description focuses primarily
on problem-solving activities, the listing of processes (in parenthesis)
associated with each step of the activity illustrates how effectively content,
process and experience can be integrated in a project approach. The content
is not considered in an isolated context, but is assessed in terms of its
functional contribution as a means to the solution of the task at hand.
Content and process cannot be dichotomized in a project approach, because
they are implicit to one another and to the approach itself. Likewise, to
engage in a project implies engaging in some form of experiential activity,
so that all the requisite characteristics for a productive learning experience
are merged in the project approach. The task, then is to determine how such
an approach can be incorporated into educational programs, particularly
in a cultural minority setting.
A primary virtue of the project-centered approach is its nearly
unlimited flexibility. A project can take almost any form: it can be a lesson
plan, a unit, or a year-long effort; it can take place inside or outside
the school; it can involve one student, a class, or the whole school; and
it can be incorporated in nearly any subject or learning activity. Examples
of some common educational practices that reflect aspects of the project
approach are field trips, work/travel/study programs, internships, practicums,
and apprenticeship programs. Although these are not often organized as formal
projects, they all engender some sort of loosely defined experience-based
learning through active involvement in a flexibly structured activity. The
students, therefore, have a great deal of flexibility in defining the nature
of their participation and pursuing their own avenues of interest. Most
of the examples listed, however, are usually employed outside of, or incidental
to the formal educational framework of the school and, thus, do not adequately
utilize the full educational potential of a project-centered approach.
If a project-centered approach is to be effectively utilized
to carry out a substantial part of the educational responsibilities vested
in the school, then the projects themselves will have to be deliberately
and carefully planned with particular learning tasks in mind, blending the
academic functions of the school with the cultural patterns of the community.
Projects will have to be developed that incorporate and blend, implicitly
or explicitly, the subject and process skills determined appropriate and
necessary for the students involved. A project such as a school store, for
example, can combine subject skills in math, business and language, with
process skills such as organizing, planning, decision-making and interacting.
A class project conducting a survey of energy consumption in the community
can incorporate elements of science, math, and social studies, along with
processes of problem-solving, communicating, analysis and evaluation. Any
combination of knowledge, skills or processes may be represented in a particular
project. The important thing, however, is not which of these specific ingredients
are involved, but whether or not the experience gained from involvement
in the project is contributory to the educational needs of the individual
student, the local community, and the society at large.
One of the best (and only) examples of the use of a project-centered
approach for a total education program is provided by Helser (1934), in
his description of what he calls a "meaningful experience curriculum," as
developed for the rural Bura people in northeastern Nigeria. Though the
specific content of Helser's curriculum is not always transferable to a
contemporary minority setting in America, it does provide a useful illustration
of how a project approach may be applied to a specific set of conditions
and problems. The children in Helser's program spent about half their time
on school projects and the other half on home and community activities in
which these projects "take on flesh and blood" (p. 23). His primary purpose
was to build an experience-based educational program around the conditions
in which the children lived, utilizing local as well as outside resources,
to help them become contributing members of their community, as well as
of the national society. He sought to foster "appreciation of various situations
and wholesome attitudes toward situations, along with controls and specific
skills" (p. 35).
To accomplish this he built a curriculum, with the help of
community members, around four general areas (home and social life, health,
agriculture and livestock, and crafts), each of which served to generate
a series of "problems". Each problem was presented to the students as a
task for inquiry in school, as well as a task toward which they addressed
their energies outside of the school. Thus, the schooling process was closely
linked with local patterns of interaction, communication, and socialization.
Some examples of problems addressed in Helser's curriculum are as follows:
1) What difference does it make where a compound is built?
2) Why do crowds of people go to market?
3) How can we be strong?
4) Where can we have our farms?
5) What can we make from the skins of animals?
The extent to which this curriculum linked school life with
home life is illustrated by the list of "objectives" Helser associated with
the problem of, "How much corn ought each family represented in the class
have in order to have enough to last throughout the year?" (p. 217).
a) To create interest in the vital question of an adequate food
b) To learn to calculate the approximate number of granaries
and the approximate number of baskets of corn in each compound in the
c) To learn to take more interest in the work of the homefolks.
d) To learn to calculate the number of baskets of corn per
person in each compound.
e) To see what a shortage of corn means.
f) To discover how much corn the average family should have.
g) To find out the number of granaries required to hold
the family's supply of corn.
h) To determine the most desirable size of granary.
i) To see the relation between the piles of pebbles and
the numbers on the blackboard.
j) To appreciate the desirability of being able to calculate
in the sand or on the blackboard or on paper.
k) To get the thrill of helping to make a community chart.
l) To do a valuable piece of work for each compound in the
This single project brought together a wide variety of subject
matter and process skills and focused them on a real-life issue in that
community. The learning that took place was for the purpose of solving the
problem, not to make a good grade or to please the teacher. The project
incorporated valuable learning experiences with a useful social function,
thus helping students learn new skills while addressing a problem in a way
that fit their particular cultural and situational needs.
Helser's summary of the "curriculum principles" upon which
a project approach should be built reflects many of the points to which
this article has been addressed and therefore, is included here in its original
form (p. 304-305).
1) Educational aims should arise out of a study of the life
needs of the child and his environment. All that makes life richer and
more abundant which other agencies are not supplying should be the responsibility
of the school.
2)Educational aims should include the ideals, attitudes,
dispositions and appreciations to be striven for, as well as those for
knowledge, habits and skills. The analysis of these aims should be continued
until they are reduced to units small enough to be specifically worked
for in the activities requiring them.
3)Educational aims should cover every phase of essential
life experience and make possible healthy living and surroundings; helpful
home membership; wider social interaction and sharing; an understanding
of the privileges and the responsibilities of citizenship; appreciation
of the world's practical and intelligent use of its products; such use
of leisure time that it truly recreates and invigorates; such ethical
and religious ideals as will develop socially valuable character and service,
and such command of fundamental processes and techniques as will enable
the individual to successfully meet and solve difficult problems and activities.
4) Educational aims should include not merely the adjusting
of the child to his environment, but the development of such attitudes
and abilities as will enable the child to adjust the environment to meet
his higher ideals, wants and appreciations.
5) True simplification of the curriculum involves a conception
of education as growth and life. The school should be thought of as a
place where pupils may receive stimulating guidance and help in carrying
out their valuable environmental activities, so that they may not only
successfully complete them, but profit by all the moral, social and accessory
interests which arrive.
6) Changed ways of behaving (conduct) should be the test
for learning, rather than the oral command of subject matter. If this
is to result, the emphasis in teaching must be upon the actual living
through a valuable experience, rather than the mere reading about it.
7) The school environment and procedure should be such as
to emphasize the purposing of worthwhile activities, the developing of
them on the child's level of interest, and his need for them here and
now, rather than as a preparation for the vague future.
8) Subject matter should be thought of as the vital experience
necessary for the child's fullest enjoyment and understanding of life.
It should be used to supplement the child's own experience, the old and
the new being organized into the necessary new way of behaving. Such supplementary
experience should come from the local inheritance and from world culture.
The test of its value to the child is the extent to which he can use it
in furthering his activities and in securing more satisfying and effective
9) The curriculum for the first four years of school life
should be general, in the sense of providing a common equipment for life
and citizenship for all pupils, with the fullest use of the local environment
as a starting point and as a source of interests and materials in furthering
the educative process.
Helser's detailed description of a project-centered approach
to education points out that it is not a new approach, but it is one that
is particularly well suited and adaptable to cross-cultural situations,
because of the experiential linkage it can provide between school learning
and cultural practices. While his is but one example of how it might be
employed, it indicates the potential of a comprehensive project orientation
where a large part of the program is built around projects, rather than
a limited number of projects being built into some component of a conventional
program. A project-centered approach does not preclude the necessity for
more formalized forms of learning activities at various stages, but the
attention is shifted from the use of projects as a supportive activity for
academic learning, to academic learning as a supportive activity for projects.
To the extent that a program is project-centered and process-oriented,
it has the potential to accommodate learning to situational and cultural
differences and to prepare students to cope with future life experiences.
It is through the flexible use of projects as a means for structuring process-oriented
learning experiences linking school and community, that schools can assist
minority (and majority) students and communities in achieving the self-determining
goal of cultural eclecticism.
While the focus of this section has been primarily on goals
and content issues, the more critical features of a project-centered approach
are reflected in the actual social organization of the educational setting
(structure), and the experiential processes by which learning is achieved
(method)-topics which will be addressed in greater detail in the next section.
As indicated earlier, the goals and content of an educational approach must
be made explicit before the appropriate structure and method can be developed.
Having established "cultural eclecticism" as the goal, "processes" as the
content, and "projects" as the means, we can now pursue the situational
and cultural implications of alternative approaches to structure and method,
which together make up the instructional process.
and the Classroom
In seeking to develop an approach to education that has the potential
for application to varied cultural and situational conditions, we must go
beyond the simple revision of curriculum content or classroom teaching practices.
We must take into account the interactional setting itself, and find ways
to restructure the social organization of that setting to allow the participants
to pattern their interaction to fit the goals they are attempting to achieve.
As with thc content, we need a structure that is flexible and adaptable
enough to accommodate a wide range of cognitive, communicative, and interactional
patterns, while maintaining some degree of order and continuity in terms
of overall direction and effort. We will, therefore, examine the suitability
of formal education as a vehicle for addressing structural and methodological
issues in minority education.
context: The situational variable
In the development of a social structure for an educational
program, we must take into account the contextual features of the settings
in which learning is to take place, because context is a major influence
in the shaping of any learning process. Of particular concern are the varied
cultural and situational patterns reflected in the learning experiences
associated with school vs. community settings. Is one type of setting more
appropriate than another for particular kinds of learning experiences? The
features of formal vs. informal education indicate that the social structure
of the school is best equipped to support academic, subject-oriented learning,
whereas the natural community setting is most appropriate for experience-based,
process-oriented learning. Though schools may engage students in active
learning experiences and deliberately attend to certain learning processes,
if that learning remains within the detached and unique social context of
the classroom, it remains subject to the distortions associated with transference
from an academic to a real-world setting. The process skills most effectively
learned in a school context are those required to continue school learning
and to function in an academic-oriented environment. Process skills required
to function in daily life outside of the school setting can be most effectively
practiced and learned in a broader community context. The more natural the
situation in which learning takes place, the greater the potential for integration
with the functional learning system of the learner, and the less the potential
for distortion in the transfer of such learning to future situations.
Let us look then, at some different approaches to the merging
of community and school experiences in the development of educational programs.
We will look first at efforts to shift formal processes of education to
"nonformal" contexts, and then at an attempt to recreate a "micro-society"
within the formal structure of the school. Finally, we will examine a combination
of those two approaches as reflected in the "school without walls" approach.
Nonformal education: In addition to the institutionalized
form of education reflected in the school, there are other forms of organized,
formal educational activities in which persons may participate at various
stages in their life, such as youth clubs, adult literacy programs, apprenticeship
programs, and cooperative extension programs. Since these usually take place
outside the formally organized educational system, they are sometimes referred
to as "nonformal" education, even though they often involve formalized processes.
In its usage, nonformal education tends to be restricted to the discussion
of occupational training in the context of economic, human resource, or
manpower development in developing countries. In most cases it is viewed
as an extension of, or complementary to the formal educational system, and
serves as a means for translating formal learning into marketable skills.
This interrelatedness is indicated by some of the questions posed by Harbison
(1973: 7-8) in regard to planning a nonformal education program:
1) Can nonformal education activities, satisfy educational needs
that cannot be met by the formal education system?
2) Are nonformal education projects, because of their flexibility
incomparison with the rigidities of formal education, more susceptible
3) Do successful innovations in nonformal education induce
desirable innovations in the formal education system?
Harbison goes on to conclude that, "In some cases, nonformal
education is the only practical means of skill and knowledge development;
in others, it offers an alternative, and often a more effective one, to
education and training in formal schooling; in most cases, it can supplement,
extend, and improve the processes of formal education" (p. 11).
Nonformal education may, therefore, offer a model for adapting
formal education to the informal context of the community. To determine
its potential, we will take a closer look at some of the assumptions and
characteristics reflected in a non formal approach.
Brembeck (1973), in an analysis of the uses of formal and
nonformal education, provides the following premises as the basis for the
development of nonformal education programs:
. . .learned behavior is determined by the environment in which
it takes place. Behavior is shaped and maintained by its consequences.
The learning environments of formal and nonformal education tend to be
of a different character. They shape and maintain different kinds of behavior.
The goal, then, of educational strategy should be to determine the kind
of behavior sought and create those educational environments which most
clearly support and encourage it (p. 63).
Whereas formal learning tends to focus on the detached acquisition
of knowledge, nonformal learning is geared to action and the application
of knowledge. The structural characteristics of nonformal education "derive
from its proximity to immediate action, work, and the opportunity to put
learning to use. These elements of the environment close the gap between
learning and doing, find intrinsic motivation in the learning situation,
imbed objectives in work and activity, and associate learners and teachers
in meaningful lines of action" (p. 58).
Nonformal education thus, has many of the characteristics
we are seeking in the development of an alternative educational approach
for cultural minorities. It draws on community resources, incorporates experiential
learning, allows considerable flexibility for varied types of learning experiences,
and provides opportunities for student and community influence on the form
and direction of learning (cf., Paulston, 1973). It provides a structural
framework consistent with that required for the project-centered, process-oriented
approach toward which we are working. In fact, many nonformal education
programs, such as 4-H clubs, Boy Scouts and home extension services, do
actively employ projects as a primary vehicle for their educational efforts.
The task then, is to expand the use of such projects so that the structure
of nonformal education can be extended to encompass more of the functions
currently carried out by formal schooling.
The persistent calls for school reform would seem to indicate
that there is a continuing need for a thorough rethinking of the fit between
structure and function in educational processes. Brembeck emphasizes this
need in calling for a careful assessment of the capabilities of both formal
and nonformal education before the latter is put to widespread use.
...both formal and nonformal education have built-in structural
elements which condition their capabilities to contribute in defined ways
to the attainment of certain educational objectives. Perhaps the fundamental
task is to analyze more precisely the structural properties of each, to
determine the potential of each for contributing to particular kinds of
educational goals, and to build programs which utilize these strengths
within a more unified and coherent policy of educational development.
If this were done, investments in both school and nonschool education
might yield better payoffs (p. 55).
Whereas nonformal education attempts to move learning out
into the community, it may also be possible to move features of the community
into the school to enhance learning experiences. In reference to schools,
however, Brembeck indicates that "their success as places of learning depends
in part upon their ability to recreate within their walls a learning environment
as naturally compelling as that existing on the outside. That environment
must be created; it is not naturally built into the structure of school
learning" (p. 60). Though teachers often attempt to recreate bits and pieces
of the community environment in the school, seldom do they go beyond superficial
aspects, and even less often are their efforts part of a comprehensive and
well-thought-through plan. One exception to this is the "micro-society"
school, devised by George Richmond (1973).
Richmond, while working in the public schools of New York
City, devised an approach to schooling that attempted to recreate critical
aspects of society in microcosm in the context of the school. He, with the
help of the students, created social learning experiences such as the micro-economy
game, the micro-capitalist society, micro-politics, and a judicial system,
all within the social and academic framework of the school. He sought to
"create a society small enough for the student to manage and large enough
to breed the kind of expertise that convinces individuals that they can
have some measure of control over the environment" (p. 275). Instead of
moving learning out into the community, he attempted to create a sense of
community within the school. He describes the premises for such a model
of schooling as follows:
As an approach, it must be a dynamic process, one that will
liberate students from a curriculum without any apparent fit to life,
one that will orient students to jobs in the service industries and the
professions, and one that will obtain for students a better appreciation
of the world of experience. The process must have the power to penetrate
the classroom and alter its way of life. In so doing, it must make the
inmate-custodian operating in many traditional schools untenable. And
although the connection with work bears emphasis, the model must also
offer students opportunities to become involved in academic pursuits,
in recreation, in civic projects, and other productive activity (p. 189).
Thus, through a simulated situation, Richmond attempts to
bring the school into a closer alignment with conditions in the surrounding
community. Though he retains the broad framework of the school, he seeks
to modify the content and method of education to improve its usefulness
and effectiveness. Instead of studying the society around them, students
and teachers engage in the evolutionary process of creating their own model
of society and coping with the economic, social and political exigencies
that such an effort entails. Gradually, as the school society expands, it
incorporates characteristics of the surrounding environment. "As the Micro-Society
matures, the school will integrate aspects of the local community-for example,
ethnic traditions-with the traditions it evolves as a separate society.
At more advanced stages still, students and student groups based in the
school will explore ways and develop the means to contribute goods and services
to communities and organizations operating in the shadow of the school"
(p. 197). Schools, which are now almost completely consumers of goods, are
to be restructured by the micro-society approach to become producers of
goods and services as well.
Through such experiences, the students are expected to learn
the knowledge and skills necessary to eventually move out and become contributing
members of their own community.
To facilitate this transition into the real-life community,
Richmond suggests that the detached, somewhat protected form of society
that is created in the earlier stages of schooling gradually give way to
actual participation in the larger society outside the school at later stages.
The emphasis at the secondary level would shift from building a micro-society
in school, to "building society from school" (p. 220). He suggests that
students could become involved in numerous economic enterprises, some that
they would operate (e.g., newspapers, day-care centers, stores, theaters),
and others that they would affiliate with, as managers, employees, or researchers.
In addition, secondary students could become involved in social development
activities, such as "preserving and revitalizing the history, traditions,
and other cultural patterns of the locale," or "developing personal, community,
and institutional ways to cope with social deviance" (p. 222-23). He sees
the micro-society school as having the potential, therefore, not only to
prepare students for life in society as it is, but to prepare them to serve
as agents of social change. One of the premises on which the model is built
is that "children who create a society of their own in school, need reach
only a few steps beyond-possibly only to secondary school-and only a few
inches inward to appropriate the power to transform themselves and their
immediate environment" (p. 190).
To the extent that the micro-society approach can achieve
a restructuring of the schooling environment and create a realistic microcosm
of society, it has the potential to overcome many of the inadequacies of
the existing school system for cultural minorities. Such a task will not
be accomplished, however, unless the students' educational experiences encompass
the full range of situations and conditions they will encounter as minority
persons in the real world. It is when the students get out into the surrounding
community, therefore, that they will learn the critical survival and action-oriented
skills they will need to gain control over their future in the larger society.
Richmond's design for moving students into the community at
the secondary level brings us to the third approach to the linking of school
and community experiences, that of the "school without walls," which combines
features of both nonformal education and the micro-society school.
The "school without
One of the most widely publicized approaches to the merging
of school and community has been the Philadelphia Parkway Program, otherwise
known as the "school without walls." As originally designed by John Bremer,
the program was literally without boundaries-physical or educational. Instead
of placing students in formal classrooms, the program operated in and around
the social, political, and economic institutions along a parkway in the
city of Philadelphia. Instead of following a formally structured academic
curriculum, the program was designed to engage students and teachers in
a continuous process of creating their own curriculum, within the framework
of school district requirements. Bremer summarized the program as follows
in a recruitment letter to potential students:
The Parkway Program will not be a school with classroom or bells.
The organizations around the Benjamin Franklin Parkway will provide laboratories,
libraries, and meeting space. Although participation will only be required
for the length of the normal school year, study and work programs will
be available year-round. Students and faculty will form small groups for
discussion, study, counseling, and self-evaluation. Learning situations
will vary from films, jobs, and lectures to special projects (Bremer and
von Moschzisner, 1971: 281).
Students primary participation in the program was through
membership in tutorial groups, consisting of a faculty member, a university
intern, and fifteen other students. It was in the context of the tutorial
groups that students worked out their program activities and acquired the
basic skills in language and mathematics required to work in the participating
institutions along the Parkway. The program combined formal courses with
work programs in civic institutions, social agencies, and local industries
and businesses. Some courses were taught by program staff, while others
were taught by members of the participating institutions. In addition, students
were directly involved in the management of the Parkway Program itself,
through membership in "management groups" and participation in "town meetings."
Such involvements were designed to afford the students maximum opportunity
to learn and acquire management, organizational, and human relations skills,
while contributing to the functional needs of an ongoing program. As Bremer
saw it, the whole program was to be the curriculum and, therefore, not only
content, but structure and method as well, were to be built around the learning
needs of the students. "It is a learning community, and the problem is to
provide internal structuring or grouping in such a way as to promote learning,
not hamper it or simply be irrelevant to it" (p. 23). Thus, there were not
artificial, formal age or grade distinctions. Secondary level students sometimes
worked side-by-side with elementary level students. Students participated,
according to interest and ability, in all aspects of the program. They learned
from each other as well as from their "teachers" and the surrounding community.
Since the program was not housed in a conventional school
building, facilities such as abandoned warehouses, offices and schools along
the Parkway were used for meeting places and to store materials and resources.
Students and teachers met on a flexible schedule for various learning activities,
depending on outside involvements and individual or group needs. Teachers
served as tutors and counselors, and supervised student activities with
cooperating agencies and institutions in the community. The purpose of the
program was to provide means for the students to learn in the community,
rather than about the community, so the emphasis was on active participation
in real-life enterprises, and coping with the many, varied and complex aspects
of society. Through such participation and coping, students learned "to
reflect on, to understand, and to control more effectively their own lives"
Learning was not to be restricted to society as it is, however.
From Bremer's point of view the Parkway Program had two challenges: "how
to help the student to live learningly within his present life space, and,
second, how to expand this life space" (p. 291). To meet these challenges,
Bremer sought to change the social organization of education to bring the
roles and relationships embodied in the pursuit of formal learning in line
with those extant in the surrounding community, where such learning must
ultimately be put to use if it is to be of any value. And it is in this
context that the Parkway Program provides a useful model for minority education.
By moving learning activities into the real-life environment of the community,
the detached and artificial nature of traditional schooling is avoided and
natural situational frames are provided, within which students can acquire
the process and subject-matter skills necessary to function in whatever
roles they choose as adults.
The "school without walls" provides a well-articulated and
comprehensive model for accommodating schooling to the cultural and situational
patterns of a particular community. The Parkway Program was not without
its problems in its evolution as a new form of institution, however, and
consequently, it underwent some structural revision following the departure
of Bremer as its first director, in an attempt to bring the program more
in line with the traditional and predominant educational system with which
it was presumed to be competing.
A "school without walls" is indeed a radical departure from
conventional educational practice, but the potential and promise that such
a departure holds for overcoming existing inadequacies in the formal system
of education will not be realized if the program's implementation is not
approached in such a way that it can overcome the inertia of the present
system and prove its worth over the span of generations. To attempt educational
reform of the magnitude required to address the issues that have been raised
in this article requires a long-term commitment, and a transcending and
wholistic perspective. We cannot expect to significantly alter and improve
the ultimate effects of the educational system by tinkering with elements
within the system, such as the classroom or the curriculum. We must instead
consider the relation of the system itself to the social and cultural environment
in which it operates. Only then will we be able to make the kind of long-lasting
and significant changes sought by Bremer in his design and creation of the
"school without walls."
of community-based education
The three alternative frameworks for education that we have
looked at all have a common concern-to fit formal education processes more
closely to the real-life conditions reflected in the surrounding community,
that is, to make the community the basis for education. Two ways are available
by which this can be accomplished: 1) by moving everyday life into the school;
2) by moving the classroom out into everyday life. The first approach is
represented by the micro-society school, and the second by nonformal education
and the school without walls. As was indicated earlier, such approaches
require major changes in the social organization of the school, particularly
in terms of school/community and teacher/student relationships. The greater
the departure from traditional school practices, the greater the need to
restructure the social organization in which learning is to take place,
so that the structure and function of education are compatible. Without
such restructuring, and without community-wide understanding of the need
for it, any alternative approach to community-based education is likely
to be short-lived and of little consequence in the improvement of education.
It is necessary, therefore, that we give careful consideration to the implications
of community-based education for the social organization of learning and
determine its appropriateness for the process-oriented, project-centered
approach to minority education we outlined earlier. We will look first at
the social and cultural implications of the community as a classroom, and
then at the consequences of such an approach for the roles of teacher and
A basic theme throughout all of the previous discussion has
been the need for a closer alignment between schooling and community socialization
processes, particularly in minority communities. We have been seeking ways
to overcome the detachment of learning from reality, and the cultural biases
of the social organization reflected in current school practice. Toward
that end we have espoused a process-oriented curriculum set in a project-centered
format, steps which in themselves, if implemented in a conventional school
context, can go a long way toward opening formal learning to a wider range
of cultural experiences. Such steps do not go far enough, however, in adapting
schooling to the functional learning system of the minority student. To
accomplish this, we must go beyond the framework of the school and look
at the real-life environment in which varied cultural and cognitive patterns
are expressed, and find ways to adapt formal learning to that environment.
We have, therefore, examined various approaches to community-based education
as a means to that end.
By using the community as a classroom, we are in a position
to use natural situational frames as a means for integrating learning and
practice and fitting patterns of formal learning to local patterns of informal
learning. Instead of depending on the unique setting of the school to establish
a simulated form of learning environment in which to teach subject-matter
skills, we can use the natural setting and events of the community to bring
students into the flow of real-life experiences where they can acquire more
pervasive and useful process skills. Students can interact and communicate
with people through responsible participation in the full range of natural
community situations that they might encounter as adults, and learn-through
observation, reflection and practice-the skills necessary to effectively
function in those situations. Through their involvements in the community,
the students can serve useful social functions and maintain their cultural
identity, while learning how social systems operate and by what forces they
are changed. They will then, be in a position to act on the goal of cultural
eclecticism and contribute to the continuing evolution of a dynamic social
All of the above is of little use to anyone if it cannot
be put into a framework that schools and communities can identify as realistically
attainable. Obviously, we cannot simply turn students loose in the community
without some direction and supportive structure within which to function.
That would not be acceptable or helpful to the school, the community, or
the students. But neither is the rigid structure of the existing school
system acceptable or functional as a means for organizing learning experiences
for minority students. Between those two conditions there are unlimited
options, however, from which schools and communities can choose to organize
learning environments suited to the educational goals they hold for their
The option that has been proposed here is the project-centered
approach, because it is flexible and adaptable to nearly any situation considered
desirable for learning and can accommodate any form of knowledge or skills
a community considers important for their children, with a minimum of cultural
intrusion. If conditions are such that learning experiences cannot be provided
in the community, projects can readily be incorporated into a school-based
program as well. But the project approach is particularly well-suited to
the education of minority students in a community setting, because it engenders
widespread interaction between school and community participants, and thus,
provides built-in mechanisms for community influence on the direction and
form of learning. In addition, projects can be designed around natural patterns
of interaction and groupings of persons, while addressing actual tasks and
problems in a minority or a majority setting.
Combining projects with community-based education provides
a powerful alternative to conventional schooling. It shifts control of education
into the hands of the community and it opens up opportunities for meaningful
learning experiences to a broader sector of the population. Instead of imposing
externally derived categories of learning on students, the categories are
derived from the natural conditions surrounding the student's daily life
experiences. Project activities are flexibly structured to allow students
to fit the learning to their individual learning styles, needs and abilities,
and to community values, norms and cultural practices with a minimum of
discontinuity. Educational performance is judged by task-oriented standards,
rather than test scores, thus reducing the discrepancy between ideal and
real. The vast diversity of situational and cultural conditions extant in
any community is accommodated, therefore, by an organizational structure
that is supportive of the differences, but still provides a means for the
development of equivalence structures by which productive interaction and
social order can be achieved.
The success of any attempt at a project-centered, community-based
approach to education is highly dependent, as is any educational endeavor,
on the orientation of the persons involved in its implementations. The critical
persons in formal educational processes are the students and the teacher,
so it is to an examination of the consequences of our approach for their
roles and relationships that we turn next. Without appropriately oriented
and prepared teachers and students, we cannot expect any alternative approach,
no matter how well conceived, to go very far in practice.
The adaptation of formal education to a project-centered,
community-based format can have a dramatic effect on the traditional roles
of teacher and student. In general, the power and authority for the control
of learning is substantially shifted from the teacher to the students and
community. The source of skills and understanding is lodged in the setting,
rather than the person of the teacher. Any situation, person or event is
a potential source for learning, and the student has considerable latitude
in defining the nature of that learning. Through their direct participation
in the educational process, community members can acquire the power to influence
the direction of learning. Learning can become a two-way process, whereby
students learn through the activities organized by teachers, and teachers
learn through their active involvements with students in the community.
It is through this two-way flow of learning, that educational experiences
can be made meaningful and adapted to changing conditions. In a community-based
approach, the teachers employ their process skills to assist students in
acquiring similar skills of their own, through joint exploration of the
real-life opportunities available in the surrounding natural physical and
social environment. Students are able to engage in projects that bring them
together in natural groupings related to the requirements of the task and
needs and interests of the learner, rather than artificial grouping by age-grade
or test scores. Attention can be paid to the processes by which students
function as a group, so that they can learn from each other as well as from
the learning activity itself. Through such group experience, students are
able to build and solidify their own identities, and acquire the skills
and attitudes necessary to function as contributing members of other social
groups. Students are able to develop their individuality through the natural
processes of group interaction. Thus, the social group takes on a greater
responsibility in the shaping of learning experiences in a community-based
approach to education. The student serves as teacher as well as learner,
through participation in a group process of educational and social development.
While such processes occur naturally in a community setting, they are often
thwarted by the one-way flow of experience reflected in the conventional
social organization of the school.
Along with the student role, the role of "teacher" changes
too, from that of transmitter of knowledge and skills, to that of organizer
of learning activities. Instead of doing things to students, the teacher
works with students, as a tutor, counselor, facilitator and supervisor,
in the development and carrying out of learning projects. The teacher's
role is to organize community resources into productive learning experiences
contributory to student needs, rather than serving as the only source for
such learning. Those learning needs that cannot be met in the community
context can then be provided through more formalized means, with the teacher
working with the students as a resource person in developing the knowledge
and skills necessary to carry out particular responsibilities in the community.
Only at the advanced stages of schooling, for those students who wish to
pursue avenues of interest that cannot be tied to experience or where the
opportunities for experience are not readily available, is it necessary
to pursue a detached form of learning. Below university level work, such
instances need be few in number, given adequately prepared, experientially-oriented
Since a community-based approach involves the teacher
more directly in community activities and fosters more personalized involvement
with the students, it is necessary to distinguish between the roles of local
community members vs. non-community members as teachers in such an approach,
particularly in the context of a minority community. A minority teacher
from the same cultural background as the student is in a position to establish
a much morn productive relationship with that student than a non-minority
(or other-minority) teacher (cf., Barnhardt, 1974). The minority teacher,
as a representative of the student's culture, is able to identify with and
directly relate to the cultural patterns indigenous to the community and
the student, and thus avoid many of the conflicts and discontinuities associated
with schooling for minority students. Because of the similarity in communication
and interaction patterns, the minority teacher does not have to go through
the process of building appropriate situational frames and establishing
equivalence structures to engage in productive interaction with the minority
students. These are inherent in the relationship. This can be particularly
helpful in the early years of schooling, when the students are especially
vulnerable to discontinuities in educational experience. The minority teacher
can provide continuity in the student's transition from informal to formal
learning, and thus reduce the chances of the student developing a negative,
dysfunctional stance toward learning.
The opportunity for a minority teacher to serve the
positive functions outlined above is predicated on two conditions, however:
1) that prior experiences, particularly while in training, have not impeded
the indigenous characteristics necessary to function effectively in the
cultural minority setting; and 2) that the schooling environment itself
is open to the establishment of alternative roles and relationships. The
first condition is sometimes lacking because of the attitudinal and behavioral
changes that often accompany four years of university experience. This can
become a serious problem if the teacher training program inculcates a structured
form of teaching behavior that is incompatible with the indigenous patterns
of behavior and interaction in the minority community. The minority teacher
with such training will be placed in the untenable position of having to
resolve two conflicting modes of interaction-one in the school, and one
in the community. The implications of this problem for teacher training
are obviously numerous.
The second condition-the flexibility of the schooling
environment-is of even greater importance than the first, because the appropriate
teaching environment can oftentimes overcome the inadequacies of the training,
whereas the reverse is more difficult. A minority teacher in a minority
school setting can greatly improve the quality of the educational experiences
in that setting, both as a role model and as an effective interactant. This
is assuming, however, that the improvement of conventional school experiences
is in the student's best interest. If such experiences are oriented, implicitly
or explicitly, toward assimilation, the minority teacher might become a
vehicle to enhance the goals of the school, rather than the goals of the
minority community. Such issues must be dealt with at a situational level,
because the goals of education will vary from one context to another, and
individual teachers will be supportive of different goals for themselves.
The most effective use of a minority teacher occurs
when the goal is cultural eclecticism, and education is community-based.
Under such conditions, the minority teacher is uniquely equipped to maximize
the opportunities for learning to occur in a cumulative and integrative
manner. The teacher and students can adapt themselves to the surrounding
conditions and carry on fruitful interaction in all dimensions of community
and educational experiences. The minority teacher serves as a natural extension
of the community into the educational domain of the minority students.
The teacher from outside the minority community is in
a different position in relation to students from that community. The outside
teacher must recognize that there is no universal form of teaching practice
or method that will achieve comparable results in any cultural setting.
Each situation is unique, and teaching behavior that may be appropriate
in one situation may be quite inappropriate in another. An outsider coming
into a new minority setting must, therefore, expect to spend a considerable
amount of time (a year or more) just getting his/her bearings in the local
cultural scene. Only after s/he has acquired a familiarity with local patterns
of communication and interaction, can s/he expect to contribute much more
than limited factual knowledge and skills to that scene. If properly oriented
and placed, however, the outside teacher can be an important contributor
to minority education. As a representative of the larger society (usually),
the outside teacher can provide the exposure to outside experiences that
is implied in the goal of cultural eclecticism. The crucial factor is the
attitude reflected by such a teacher in providing that exposure. If the
teacher takes a holier-than-thou position and presents the larger world
in a detached context and in a glorified manner that implies "this is the
only way to go," s/he will be of little value to the minority student. If,
on the other hand, s/he works with the students in a community context with
the intent of involving them in various larger-society experiences to help
them understand and cope with alternative situations they may encounter
as adults, then s/he is in a position to make a valuable contribution.
Outside teachers can be most useful at the upper levels, as
students begin branching out into new situations and alternative avenues
of interests from those indigenous to the minority community. If the students
are to learn to function in a complex, multicultural society, then it is
helpful for them to have multi-cultural experiences in the course of their
education, provided the external cultural influences do not unfairly predominate
in those experiences. A balance of minority and non-minority teachers operating
in a community context provides one means by which this can be accomplished.
We have seen, then, that community-based education calls
for major revisions in the social organization of the school. The school
becomes more closely integrated with the cultural patterns of the community,
and the teacher and student roles are opened up to a form of shared experiential
development that has the potential for transcending cultural boundaries
and bringing education into the realm of cultural eclecticism. It is that
experiential focus that is at the heart of a cross-cultural approach, so
it is to the relation between culture and experiential learning that we
turn now to draw together the threads that have been interspersed throughout
the preceding discussion.
Culture and experiential
In exploring the various approaches to goals, content, and
structure in minority education, we have worked our way through, in each
dimension, to an approach that is dependent on some form of experiential
learning. Cultural eclecticism as a goal, depends on each person having
the range of experiences necessary to make realistic choices in life style
and cultural commitments. A process-oriented curriculum is dependent on
opportunities for the experiential development of the requisite process
skills. And the project-centered, community-based structure is designed
to organize learning activities in the context of real-life experiences.
The "experiential learning" reflected in all these dimensions of our approach,
serves then, as our educational "method."
Experiential learning is more than the "learning by
doing," "discovery" or "inquiry" methods that are sometimes espoused by
educators. These methods, while indicative of the value of having students
"work it out for themselves," are usually employed within the context of
formally structured learning activities, stopping short of the direct involvement
in real-life experiences called for here. Experiential learning is more
akin to the "walkabout" approach suggested by Gibbons (1974) as a means
for facilitating students' transition from childhood to adult roles during
the last years of formal schooling. Drawing on the Australian Aborigine
practice of sending out their young to survive alone in the wilderness for
an extended period as a "rite of passage" (cf., van Gennep, 1960), into
adulthood, Gibbons proposes a comparable experience for American high school
students. He contrasts a conventional high school experience with features
of the "walkabout" as follows:
The young native faces a severe but extremely appropriate
trial, one in which he must demonstrate the knowledge and skills necessary
to make him a contributor to the tribe rather than a drain on its meager
resources. By contrast, the young North American is faced with written
examinations that test skills very far removed from the actual experience
he will have in real life. He writes; he does not act. He solves familiar
theoretical problems; he does not apply what he knows in strange but real
situations. He is under direction in a protected environment to the end;
he does not go out into the world to demonstrate that he is prepared to
survive in, and contribute to, our society. His preparation is primarily
for the mastery of content and skills in the disciplines and has little
to do with reaching maturity, achieving adulthood, or developing fully
as a person (p. 597).
As a means of pulling school experiences together and
making them contributory to passage into the adult world, Gibbons proposes
a modified form of the walkabout as a kind of culminating trial experience
preparatory to graduation. A principal feature of the walkabout program
is that "it should be experiential and the experience should be real rather
than simulated" (p. 598). He indicates that it should also involve "personal
challenge, individual and group decision making, self-direction in the pursuit
of goals, real-world significance in activity, and community involvement
at all stages of preparation and conclusion" (p. 600).
In practice, Gibbons' walkabout experiences would address
five "challenge categories:" adventure, creativity, service, practical skill,
and logical inquiry. Students would be required to select and carry out
a major project in each category. Gibbons provides numerous examples of
potential walkabout projects, such as a month-long expedition in a wilderness
area, producing an original film, volunteer work with the elderly, operating
a home appliance repair service, and researching questions such as "What
ways can the power output of an engine be most economically increased" (p.
599). Just prior to graduation, the students would present formal reports
to community and school members, summarizing the results of their walkabout
The walkabout, in its theory, design and practice, is
a prime example of experiential learning. Students learn through direct
involvement in the physical and cultural environment around them. Such an
approach does not have to be limited, however, to the culminating years
of school experience. It can be readily adapted to any level and to cover
many aspects of the curriculum. It offers one more way to more closely align
formal schooling with community socialization processes.
The experiential approach to learning outlined here
reflects many of the characteristics associated with informal education.
It provides for a more particularistic orientation in the organization of
social relations, thus allowing critical identity and value formation processes
to develop freely in a natural community context. Students and teachers
are able to maintain personalized relationships and establish an informal
atmosphere of mutual respect and trust. The content and processes of learning
are focused on actual, real-life phenomena, with an emphasis on observation,
action and participation as a means of acquiring an understanding of those
phenomena. There is a continuity between community and school related experiences,
with a great deal of flexibility to fit learning to individual needs and
circumstances. Much of what is learned is spontaneous and unanticipated,
consistent with the loose structure and inductive nature of the learning
activities. Finally, learning is evaluated on the basis of conduct and action
in the course of carrying out real-life responsibilities within a natural
context, rather than on the basis of achievement test scores resulting from
the imposition of externally defined criteria set in a detached environment.
All of these characteristics serve to indicate the appropriateness of an
experiential learning approach for adapting formal education to the varied
cultural and situational conditions in minority communities.
An implicit function of experiential learning, as reflected
in the educational approach outlined in this discussion, is to provide
means by which students can test themselves and the world around them,
through a process of critical involvement and exploration in that world.
is comparable to Freire's (1971) notion of "praxis-a testing of theory
through practice. Students confront and eventually learn to modify and
social reality through the experience gained from direct participation
in that reality. This development of a critical social consciousness is
of experiential learning that makes it especially suitable in a minority
setting, where an understanding of the processes that shape social reality
can provide a major step in gaining control over the future of that reality.
If cultural minorities desire educational opportunities that will prepare
them to extend beyond the boundaries of their present existence, they will
need to overcome the experiential limitations of the traditional educational
system. That system, with its detachment from real-life experience, is
not capable of perpetuating the minority culture, nor is it capable of
any more than superficial aspects of the majority culture. It is only through
direct experience that a critical understanding of basic cultural processes
and thus, self-determination, can be achieved. As Wallace (1970: 109) has
indicated in reference to processes of cultural transmission in general,
"The best a culture can do is communicate the general framework of 'its'
plans and ensure that the new generation is placed in situations in which
they will have to reinvent the details, probably with minor modifications."
The provision of such situations becomes all the more critical when the
circumstances include varying conditions of acculturation, as in minority
Experiential learning, as applied in the cross-cultural
approach to education outlined here, is intended to serve as a means to
address cultural processes, rather than cultural content. The specific cultural
patterns reflected in a particular community serve as a means to gain an
understanding of the more general processes by which culture defines the
nature of our existence, and by which culture changes as a result of human
interaction. The justification for the approach outlined here is aptly summarized
by Hall (1976: 165) in the following statement "Without first mastering
culture's unwritten rules, we cannot escape the binding constraints on knowledge
of our species which can be seen in all situations and contexts and can
be observed wherever human beings interact. Where does one begin such an
inquiry?" We might begin by looking at ourselves and the processes by which
we come to understand and shape the world around us. We may then find ways
to build educational programs that contribute to the multiple and diverse
needs of all the people, rather than a select few.
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J. Kelly Tonsmiere
Some Thoughts on Village
Schools in Rural Alaska"
Todd Bergman, New Stuyahok
Judy Hoeldt, Kaltag
Medium Is The Message For Village
Steve Byrd, Wainwright
Intelligences: A Community Learning
Raymond Stein, Sitka
To A Community-Based Curriculum"
Jim Vait, Eek
the Dream House"
Mary Moses-Marks, McGrath
Participation in Rural Education"
George Olana, Shishmaref
Education in Rural Alaska"
Pennee Reinhart, Kiana
on Teaching in the Kuskokwim Delta"
Christine Anderson, Kasigluk
Thoughts on Curriculum"
Marilyn Harmon, Kotzebue
Some Suggestions for the
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Judy Hoeldt, Kaltag
Research Project for Rural High Schools"
Dave Ringle, St. Mary's
Projects for the Pacific Region,"
Roberta Hogue Davis, College
for Exploring Japan's Cultural Heritage"
Raymond Stein, Sitka
Experience Japanese Culture Through
Rosemary Branham, Kenai
Axe Handle Academy: A Proposal for a Bioregional, Thematic
Ron and Suzanne Scollon
Community and the Curriculum"
Development of an Integrated Bilingual and Cross-Cultural
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Curriculum Webs: The Structure of Nonlinear
Rebecca Corwin, George E. Hem and Diane Levin