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What Is Curriculum and Instruction: A Reflection

I am often asked exactly what our students in the Curriculum and Instruction program do, and my response ranges from having our students obtain a solid foundation in models and theories of curriculum and instruction, to generally becoming more well-informed about the most important controversies in education today. As an example, in a foundational Curriculum and Instruction class, we ask the question “what’s the purpose of education?” I bring up the fact that the students probably had to answer this question when they were freshmen in college studying education for the first time, but I remind them that it’s an important question for teachers to periodically re-visit. In another class, “Race, Class, and Gender in Education,” we recently discussed the dominant myth of meritocracy in US society and the ways that schools perpetuate this ideal. To bring ideas from two C&I classes together, is the purpose of US education to instill in children the belief that if they simply work hard or find that special immutable talent within themselves, that all will be well in their futures, and they will have treasures rain down upon them? Or likewise, for those among us who never make it out of poverty, are they somehow to blame for their circumstances? Of course, as adults, we should know this not to be true (right?), but as teachers, we also know that having discussions like these varies depending on one’s school context. Fortunately, in our C&I classes, Baltimore city public school teachers sit alongside county district teachers and independent school teachers, not to mention a smattering of other educationists. Adults with varied experiences enrich our graduate school classroom dialogue so that we are never comfortable seeing that concepts are easily inserted into any classroom in the exact same way. But what we do walk away with as a common denominator is the importance of empathy and care for whole person, or cura personalis, a Jesuit education ideal.

In today’s world, I feel that this common, humanistic approach is more important than ever, especially after seeing the release of a new UCLA study “Teaching and Learning in the Age of Trump: Increasing Stress and Hostility in America’s High Schools” or hearing about the local white independent school educated-adolescents who wore racially insensitive Halloween costumes to a party. In our C&I classes, we discuss the ways in which having discussions about meritocracy or social reproduction theory, racism, classism, etc. with students in schools today can be had in one way among urban students, so that they might find these ideas most inspiring for themselves, and inspirational in a way that might lead them to become social justice leaders, but the conversation and approaches are rather different for our elite independent school students. It can be easy to ignore the uniqueness and range of contexts, but we serve all teachers and their students, and as of late, I am feeling that differentiating for different educational contexts to help them teach about equity concepts most effectively, is more important today than ever. And in fact, if we think about how to effectively teach a more privileged population how to become enlightened and inspired with cura personalis in the forefront of our minds, those privileged students might also one day become social justice leaders behind or alongside their urban peers. And so, the purpose of education question here at Loyola might look different for different teachers, but a commonality we aspire to includes teaching for a pursuit of social justice. 


Dr. Stephanie Flores-Koulish is an Associate Professor and the Director of the Curriculum & Instruction program at Loyola University Maryland. More information about her, including how to reach out to her with any questions or additional program information, can be found in her faculty biography.