A Needs-Met Curriculum

Last night at dinner, I heard about a small school in Mexico from a former Calvin College professor, who now teaches at a small college on a Native American reservation. I believe he called it “The College of the Shoeless”… after numerous searches on Google, I found nothing… likely I need to search en espanol.

Regardless of any specifics, the abbreviated second-hand description was enough to fascinate me. He explained the school was based on a simple premise: it would offer programs that enabled students to meet the needs of their community. The needs-based curriculum was informed by input from neighbors.

This curriculum model seems like a next possible step working from the problem-solving integrated curriculum ideas we’ve already been considering.

Not only does this model help to serve the immediate needs of community, but it also ensures that graduates are capable of doing work that is in demand. It is as much good community service as it is good market economics; good citizenship and good business.

We’re going to keep thinking on this, but:

what if the University worked to meet the needs of its community?

Maybe, then, it would make sense to spend so much to send people to college. The expense of time and resources is warranted if the return is in immediately applied solutions to real local problems.

In many ways this philosophy is the opposite of the operation that the University of the People set up recently in Haiti that I discussed a couple of weeks ago. Instead of providing a generic catch-all program for a standardized career-track, students could learn to solve complex issues in ways that are geographically and culturally relevant.

These local issues, in my experience, are incredibly complex as much as they are diverse. An older city will be in need of quality home restoration as much as it will be in need of a socio-political vision and culture that has the patience, planning mind-set and aesthetic to ensure that homes are restored, not razed. An unhealthy city will need good farmers to feed people, as much as it will need good food education in schools, homes, and media. No real issue can be solved by producing or doing technical work, just as it cannot be solved purely through research, theorizing, and design.

The Saxifrage model of productive inquiry works well with this concept of a needs-based community-context curriculum. Perhaps the most interesting question is how these needs are decided upon. Who gets to say? Then, how do those needs-claims get turned into an actual curriculum?

No doubt, more on this later.