Conseil supérieur de l'éducation
 
Catholic Committee: A Look at the REFORM

by Guy Côté,
President of the Catholic Committee

 

The curriculum reform has generated much interest and curiosity, with its promises and unknowns. Among the former is the hope that the system will be better able to maintain student motivation and promote student learning. Among the latter are questions related to possible drifting.

 

Construction of the self

The socioconstructivist approach adopted by the proposed program stresses each student’s responsibility for and commitment to his or her own education. It is based on self-knowledge, and awareness of one’s perceptions, sentiments, thoughts, values and goals, encouraging the student to construct further knowledge on the foundation laid by prior learning, the known and the familiar. By developing skills, it seeks to link this knowledge with situations and experiences which are relevant to the student.

Like any other approach, this one has its advantages but also presents some degree of risk. By increasing student motivation, it could help improve academic success. However, for the time being, it is difficult to know whether the reform will be able to avoid certain pitfalls. Will centring on immediate experience as the source of learning not belittle the importance of the individual’s historic or cultural background? dilute subject-related knowledge by considering it interesting only inasmuch as it could be mobilized for use in a complex procedure of developing skills and capacities? or consider valuable only that knowledge which is obviously or immediately applicable to one’s personal experience?

In this way, the reform might compromise the school’s role as guardian of the collective memory and hotbed for the knowledge and values underlying a given civilization. To a great extent, we owe what we are to what we have received, as Alain Finkielkraut reminds us in L’Ingratitude (Québec-Amérique, 1999). However, this does not condemn us to passivity, since, on receiving cultural data, we reinterpret and recompose them. Self-construction presupposes dialogue not only with one’s peers or "accompanying persons", as encouraged by the project approach, but also with preceding generations and their experience of what it means to "be human".

 

Doubt and conviction

Given the requirements of life in a diversified society, we may tend to perceive beliefs and convictions as an obstacle to accepting others as they are and to living with them in solidarity. Should this vision be adopted by the reform, as the preliminary versions of The Québec Education Program has lead us to believe, it might make students more adept at questioning everything, something they are already well-versed in doing, rather than developing open, solid values.

And yet, one would think that firming up social ties requires much more than a sense of relativity. If we do not recognize obligations towards others, for instance, how are we to learn to respect rights and maintain egalitarian relationships? to give of ourselves above and beyond the prescribed standards? or to simply adopt behaviour based on the democratic ideal? Such recognition entails building conviction rather than relativizing it. We must constantly seek a balance between the ability to question our own worldview and the ability to orient our life according to certain convictions and fundamental values.

Clearly, we might think that the guiding principles of the current reform are likely to generate the results hoped for, to the extent that our confidence in a "new" paradigm does not entail dropping the best of the wisdom we have inherited. Let us readily greet the reform’s most fertile intuitions without losing the critical faculties upon which its success might well hinge.


Panorama • Volume 5, Number 2 • May 2000

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