Re-conceptualizing a Classical Educational Concept
Emily Style’s beautiful phrase “curriculum as window and mirror” has had an enormous impact on my work as a teacher and teacher educator over the last 30 years. Other proponents of multicultural education have, over those years, deployed many more words to assert what curriculum ought to be and do. Emily’s lyrical imagery is testament to her skills as both poet and educational theorist. And, generations of teachers are all the better for having taken these words to heart as they consider the choices they make in responding to the students in their classrooms.
I was introduced to this approach to curriculum as a result of my fortunate participation in the National SEED Project seminar held during the school year 1986-1987, when I was teaching at Oak Knoll School of the Holy Child in Summit, NJ. Peggy McIntosh and Emily Style led a monthly meeting of what they labeled “faculty-centered faculty development” of a group of public and private school teachers interested in thinking more deeply about what curriculum should be in a diversifying and globalizing world.
After this experience, I led a similar year-long seminar with Oak Knoll faculty. I then approached the head of our school, Sr. Cynthia Vives, SHCJ, to see whether Oak Knoll might host a summer conference bringing together teachers from across the national network of Holy Child schools of which Oak Knoll was a part. With her support, we attracted 60 teachers who came together to talk about the implications of Emily’s and Peggy’s ideas about diversifying the curriculum in our schools.
After the conference, we were fortunate to secure external funding to publish a small report about its proceedings, “Listening for All Voices: Gender Balancing the School Curriculum.” Peggy wrote the Foreword for the booklet and Emily developed her idea of curriculum as window and mirror with the graceful prose for which she is famous. The grant allowed us to make copies of this booklet available free of charge and distribute them widely. And, today in our digital age, the booklet lives on in PDF format that has circulated even more widely. The ideas about curriculum represented so evocatively through Emily’s imagery of window and mirror, along with her other writings since then, speak to the need to bring gender into connection with all dimensions of human diversity such as race/ethnicity, language, and sexuality. Her generative notion of curriculum reminds us that reconceptualizing a classical educational concept can spur creative new ways of thinking and acting as teachers.
After leaving high school teaching, I became a teacher educator—first at Teachers College, Columbia University and now at Michigan State University. No matter what course I am teaching, I find a way to introduce my students to Emily’s notion of curriculum as window and mirror. The concept is as important for college teaching as it is for K-12 schooling. Its power rests on the essential insight that, as John Dewey would say, we teach the student and, in so doing, need to psychologize subject matter in response to our students.
With due deference to Dewey, I must say that I prefer Emily’s way of putting it. Thank you, Emily!
Margaret Smith Crocco is Professor and Chair of the Department of Teacher Education in the College of Education at Michigan State University.