By Nitai Deranja
A question people often ask when first hearing about Education for Life is: “What is your curriculum?” It is the wrong question to start with, however, because it presupposes an approach that EFL, at its very core, is designed to remedy.
We live in an age that values standardization. It began with the Industrial Revolution when people discovered you could manufacture products in mass quantities using assembly lines. The approach worked well in producing cars, refrigerators, and other products, so people concluded that we should use a similar methodology to create a standardized curriculum for our schools. From this perspective teachers are seen as assembly line workers, repeating a set of designated tasks that will move the product (student) toward its prescribed completion. To facilitate this process, these tasks are defined in minute detail in the ubiquitous curriculum frameworks that lie at the heart of most educational systems.
The problem with this approach is that children are not like cars. As should be abundantly clear to anyone who spends time around children, each one is unique. The attempt to standardize their education will be stifling at best. Instead of cultivating a rich flowering of creative talents that can help solve our global problems, we tend toward graduating students who excel mainly at memorizing material for standardized tests.
Education for Life pursues an alternative approach that shifts the focus from a static sequence of prescribed lessons to the ever-changing needs and interests of a particular group of students. In this way it is similar to other child-centered programs like the Emergent Curriculum of Reggio Emilia. Teachers are empowered to identify and celebrate the unique mix of talents they find in their class and use them to create magnetic ways of expanding student horizons. The effect is transforming. For example, a parent shared that her four-year-old son would cry each morning as they prepared for school. At a conference with the teacher, she noted that the boy was expressing an interest in music. They implemented a plan to create a unit on this topic for the whole class. The following day the tears disappeared as the child realized that school was a place that aligned with his interests. Through this avenue of involvement, the boy quickly began to show interest in other parts of the school day as well.
For newer teachers especially, it helps to have an overview of the skills and topics usually addressed at each age (see the EFL Curriculum Guides). But even here, it is important to simplify and minimize the number of objectives so that teachers are free to focus on the living realities of their students. EFL facilitates this approach by renaming the traditional subjects to emphasize their relationship to personal concerns. Instead of the standard terminology of History, Language, Science, etc., we use titles like Understanding People, Self-Expression & Communication, and Our Earth – Our Universe. (For an expanded description of these terms, see the accompanying paper on the EFL Curriculum Categories.)
Education for Life concerns itself with helping students find purpose and meaning in life. Thus each of the Curriculum Categories explores various qualities that help students embrace broader realities as they progress towards ever-greater degrees of maturity. Finally, the categories themselves, as illustrated by the Curriculum Logo, present subjects not as compartmentalized disciplines but as parts of an integrated whole that expands organically from the student’s current level of awareness.
The goal then is not to create an EFL CURRICULUM that codifies what should happen in the classroom for all times and places, but rather to outline a direction of growth that invites teachers and students to work together in co-creating a unique school experience filled with enthusiasm, wisdom, and joy.