Curriculum – Does it Matter?

By Melanie C. Gordon

Child drawing
How do our children learn?

In the mid 1990’s, when publishing houses were still “courting” public school teachers with parties at restaurants, big giveaways, and beautiful bells and whistles just for looking at their curriculum, my best friend and I became skeptics. We were fairly new teachers who found ourselves caught up in the chants and games and shrimp cocktails several evenings in a row. This was the third of the events crafted to help teachers, curriculum consultants, and school districts choose the “best curriculum.” On the drive home my mentor happened to be in the car with us, and she asked, “Well, what do you think?” The two of us decided that those tactics covered up a myriad of flaws that began my quest to find or write the perfect curriculum. Guess what I discovered? It does not exist. Not exactly.

We can look to Medieval Europe as the foundation of the definition of curriculum. Basically, the definition refers to the “means and materials” with which students will interact for the purpose of achieving identified educational outcomes. For the purposes of faith formation, is curriculum more than means and materials? Is it possible that we use the term so loosely that it has lost its collective meaning? Curriculum is important as we shape the way of faith formation, but can it be solely responsible for the way that we help others grow in faith? Are we placing too much emphasis on curriculum rather than on providing opportunities, resources, and experiences that will help people grow in faith? I wonder how our teaching might better reflect the way that Jesus taught through relationship building, storytelling, and mission?

In Richard P. Heitzenrater’s essay “John Wesley and Children,” he wrote, “Wesley’s interest in improving the mind—as part of the whole person—included an interest in both supporting and founding educational institutions.” Our Methodist heritage compels us to provide for the formational needs of our children, which is best accomplished with mentors, teachers, and guides who are equipped to serve in ministry with children. By placing such a strong emphasis on curriculum, are we overlooking the need for trained leaders who first have a love for God and children, are growing in faith themselves, and are provided with training on the developmental needs of children?

One of the best things that could have happened to me as a new teacher was to be assigned a mentor who helped me see curriculum as a way to see the desired outcome, and that the true learning came through my knowledge of the subject and my ability to use multiple techniques to help children reach their potential. It seems to me that we need to find a way to offer ongoing and effective teacher training for those who are called into service as ministers to children.

In a recent conversation that I had with several Christian Educators from across the connection, I asked the question, “What do you believe (our denomination) needs to produce to meet the needs of children in our congregations and communities?” Beyond the extended conversation on the need for teacher training, the common theme hit on five distinct points.

  • Theologically sound curriculum that teaches who we are as Christians living out our faith as United Methodists
  • Affordable curriculum that uses fewer consumable resources
  • Easily adaptable curriculum for use with multiple ages
  • Activity-based curriculum that relies less on crafts and more on mission and experience
  • Developmentally appropriate curriculum

The Curriculum Resources Committee of The United Methodist Church is made up of eight voting members, including one bishop, clergy and laity, and up to four of the members selected for their expertise. The CRC is given ten responsibilities; including reviewing and discussing plans for curriculum development at all age levels. CRC-endorsed resources are to be based on an understanding of the Doctrinal Standards, Our Theological Task, and Christian Education. Its purpose, according to the 2012 Book of Discipline (1121) is to “carefully review and act on plans constructed and proposed by the staff of Church School Publications . . . The plans . . . shall be consistent with the Doctrinal Standards and General Rules of The United Methodist Church.” As people engaged in ministry with children, we need to be aware of the work of this committee, and actively communicate with its members and the United Methodist Publishing House to live out our responsibility to the faith formation of the children that we serve.

Questions for Reflection

  1. How would you describe the role of curriculum resources in the faith formation of children?
  2. What criteria do you use in selecting curriculum resources?
  3. How does your congregation equip teachers to lead effective learning experiences for children?