I’ve been reading The Teenage Liberation Handbook by Grace Llewellyn and came upon the legalities of homeschooling. Llewellyn mentions that some states and provinces require that homeschoolers submit records of the curriculum followed to school boards or universities for various reasons. She then advises, even if off-handedly, that homeschoolers could make it up if they wanted to and hope that the advising body doesn’t catch them, connoting to the reader the belief that these reports shouldn’t be important in the first place.
Whether or not that’s true, it got me thinking that, if “living life” is the only thing that Llewellyn suggests should comprise learning, what the heck is a curriculum? What does that word really mean and where does it come from? The OED says:
The etymology of the word seems to come from the word curricule. (Searching Google for the definition of “curriculum” also brings up the word “curricule” in its etymological transcript) The OED pins that as follows:
Trying to understand further I looked up the word course since it was mentioned in the etymology of the word “curriculum”:
If the word curriculum has its roots in the Latin for the word “course,” and the Latin for course has its roots in the word cursum, implying race and running, then what this seems to suggest is that curriculum, whenever it has its reference in terms of education and schools, always seems to imply a race of some kind.
But course doesn’t necessarily imply race, on its own. It could simply refer to a path that is followed. That definition seems to align more closely with the definition of curriculum vitae, literally, “the course (or path) of your life.” Read in that it, a course seems to allow for rests, reflections, breaks, and numerous twists and turns, which, ironically, doesn’t make a good C.V. at all, at least in the eyes of most employers. More to the point, I don’t remember a single school course that allowed for an individual’s right to choose when and how to reflect, and for how long.
Trying to delve deeper I started looking up definitions with the same root word as curriculum:
Again, that which runs. Again there is speed.
I found this interesting post. by Jonathan Marks writing for the MacMillan Dictionary’s blog, on words beginning with “curr-”. As mentioned before, Curriculum vitae implies the course of your career. Marks takes this further: “career also originates from the same ancient root meaning ‘swift movement’, as do car, chariot, carry,carriage and charge, the last three being related to the load of a vehicle running along its route.”
A courier, someone running to deliver something, also comes to play, as does cursive handwriting (fast, uninterrupted), and a quick, cursory glance.
It seems that no matter how you get to the finish line, the word that we’re using to describe what and how students learn, implies that it is done with quickness, speed. This is far removed from what we’re told by teachers the first “schools” actually looked like, that is, a leisurely stroll between student and philosopher through markets and plains, sitting on benches or around a table, standing in the middle of town or anywhere else a discussion was happening. And what do you know… The Online Etymology Dictionary informs us that the root of school originates from the notion of “‘leisure,’ which passed to ‘otiose discussion’ (in Athens or Rome the favorite or proper use for free time), then ‘place for such discussion.’” (Cross-referenced and confirmed by the OED).
What’s the conclusion? There is a antithetical disconnect between our current notions of the curriculum that our school is offering, and their origins. I say it’s high time we look back collectively, to reconcile with the past to make way for a proper future.