Typically, school curriculum has been viewed through the lens of preparation for the workplace or higher education_both worthy objectives. However, this is not the only lens, and perhaps not even the most powerful one to use, if the goal is to optimize the educational system. Curriculum on the Edge of Survival attempts to define basic aspects of the curriculum when viewed through the larger lens of a school as the principal instrument through which we maintain an effective democracy. In that case, the purpose of education is to prepare our students to take their rightful place as active members of a democracy. This purpose is larger than workplace or college readiness, and in fact subsumes them. Curriculum on the Edge of Survival posits four major starting points for education under the purpose of preparing students for functional membership in a democracy: kindness, thinking, problem solving, and communications. These four foundational elements should be taught in every class, at every level, every day. They form the backbone of a great educational system.
Dan Heller provides a thought provoking commentary on the direction of America's schools. His advocacy for helping learners develop habits of caring, involvement, curiosity and commitment will strike a responsive chord in the hearts and minds of dedicated educators everywhere. Dan's work is a sensitive and centering approach to meeting the needs of our country's children as they move through today's broken educational system.
Sam Intrator Ph.D
Dan Heller is an experienced educator. He has done it all from teaching, to administration, to instructional district-level leadership. By the virtue of his broad success in the multiple arenas of our profession, he has earned the right to be called a leader in the profession. We need more 'leaders' in teaching and—in particular—we need to hear from seasoned expert educators who can weigh in on the inter-relationships between practice and policy. I admire Dan's effort in this regard. He is attempting to help teachers and other educators envision a practice that both addresses the mandates we face yet does so with integrity. [He] strives to articulate modes of approaching the thorny predicaments of practice through a system that celebrates thinking, moral engagement, and holistic conceptions of children living in an ecology.
Dan Heller's thoughtful analysis of the purpose of learning and his impassioned call for a reconceptualization of our educational system are intriguing and timely. In this well-written and compelling book, he invites all of us to re-dedicate our teaching and to make our classrooms more vibrant, more relevant, and more humane.
Heller's four prongs of preparation for participation in a democracy—kindness, thinking, problem-solving, and communications—exemplify the 'less is more' approach to education. Rather than creating automatons with standard-issue knowledge, beliefs, and behaviors, curricula designed with these four tenets would promote actors/agents in the world who would question, take risks, reflect, and consider context, complexity, and connectedness. Such students/citizens would engage in relationships with their learning/living . . . and yes, relationships can be messy. With a populace grounded in these qualities, however, we might have a shot at practicing true democracy.