The challenge in defending emergent curriculum is that the educational aims of Agency, Creativity, and Integrity fly directly in the face of any promises of predictable and certifiable content coverage. Officially sanctioned and accelerated content coverage is the evil stepchild of the union of the empty vessel metaphor with scientism, the conviction that greater accountability in education will follow from quantifying and mapping measurable growth data.

Not surprisingly, the first serious mainstream considerations of emergent curriculum appear in literature on preschool education, where, presumably, abandoning the publicly approved acquisition ladders and timetables was seen to be least risky. (See Rita DeVries)

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“We covered the Civil War.”


To change the paradigm, we have to define new aims. Just pouring approved content into vessels is not acceptable.

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Emergence is crystallization

The prepared environment is supersaturated with adults who are enlisted in a common commitment to cultivate Agency, Creativity and Integrity in the Learning Community. We provide avenues of productive choice and diverse support for work. We even provide the nucleating strands … the architectonics around which our diverse individual narratives are assembled.

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Gather a group

Gather a group of inquiring, intelligent, and reasonably aligned* (*that’s a topic for another day) adults of diverse age and experience, and propose to unify and organize their thinking according to the four part rationale offered in Ralph Tyler’s Basic Principles of Curriculum and Instruction. Tyler’s Rationale is simple and pedagogically agnostic, with four stages of planning and implementation that will lend accountability and credibility to your program, whether you are the hippy dippy founder of a children’s unschool sanctuary or the Academic Dean at a rigorous college preparatory academy. If you can pass the Tyler sniff test, you are offering a rational defense of your curriculum.

Set the table

Establish and groom a large, living list of the four questions, so you can continuously examine design elements through the 4 lenses of Tyler’s Rationale (now your collective or aggregate rationale). Keep these questions always on the back burner to guide the design and scaling of an emergent curriculum.

Tyler’s Rationale
I. What educational Purposes does the school wish to attain?
II. What educational Experiences can be provided that are likely to attain those purposes?
III. How can these educational experiences be effectively Organized?
IV. How can we Determine whether these purposes are being attained?

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I. AIMS – What educational aims do we wish to strive for?

I propose constructing a framework of regulating ideals such as the following, inspired and informed by Montessori scientific pedagogy, but borrowing from several other frameworks to ensure compatibility with diverse student centered pedagogies.

AIMS of our learning community
I. Agency (Autonomy, Competence, and Belonging)
II. Creativity (Emergence)
III. Integrity (Interconnected Wholeness)(In this bucket of Purposes, the big three (Agency / Creativity / Wholeness) are spinoffs of Laloux/Wilber. The three components of Agency are adapted from Deci & Ryan’s Self-Determination Theory/SDT.)

References to Maria Montessori, John Dewey, Edward O. Wilson, Friederich Hayek, John Holt, Fritjof Capra, Ken Wilber, Frederic Laloux, Ron Berger, Matthew Crawford, Deci & Ryan, Oakshott.

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II. EXPERIENCES – What educational experiences can we provide that are likely to attain those purposes?

This question is best examined through two lenses.

1. What characteristics of an experience make it educative? (See: John Dewey, Experience and Education ). What is our theory as to *what kinds* of experiences are likely to help us attain our purposes? I regard Dewey’s “educative experience” to be synonymous with “experiences that help us attain our purposes” in the Ralph Tyler kind of way. See also Elliott Eisner Experiential Objectives.

2. Consistent with those characteristics, What concretely defined experiences/opportunities do we plan to offer? (See here Applebee Curriculum as Conversation; Eisner, Ron Berger, Etienne Wenger)

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III. ORGANIZATION – How can these educational experiences be effectively organized?

How do we organize ourselves to engender wholesome emergence at scale?

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IV. ASSESSMENT – How can we determine whether our aims are being attained?

Are parents helped to understand what their child has learned or accomplished over time?

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