A Lighthouse in the Fog
By Rohan Menon
What does change look like?
For those of us steeped in broken systems, change is a familiar friend that doesn’t visit often enough. We dream of it, call for it, invite it; and yet, many of us envision change as a switch that will one day be flipped, if only we can gather the willpower.
In truth, change happens slowly, quietly, in the minds of individuals as they coalesce into something larger. Sometimes, a single gathering of people with a shared commitment to change is enough to tip the scales in its favor.
In the summer of 2021, we tried to tip the scales in favor of learners. Having long yearned to tear ourselves away from the oppressive grip of standards, and move instead towards a vision of education in which learners can purposefully build disciplinary knowledge and develop transferable skills, we finally took the first step this summer when we brought together a group of disciplinary experts with diverse identities and professional backgrounds, and asked them to help us Reimagine the K-12 Content Map.
From the inception of the idea, we realized that a radically different content map would demand a radically different design process — so we hosted a week-long, collaborative design studio that prioritized agency, authenticity, and creative imagination. Our vision was for a constellation of different identities, values, and beliefs to inform the creation of a concept-based, culturally sustaining (Paris & Alim, 2017), and antiracist alternative to our current, dominant standard frameworks.
And so they did. Over the course of a single week, our disciplinary teams drafted content maps that identified essential, cross-disciplinary concepts and topics, and justified their inclusion against the stated goals of multiculturalism and anti-racism. We’re now deep into the process of analyzing the maps, exploring how they connect, and planning a path forward that catalyzes real change. We are engaging members from each team, experts beyond K-12, our friends from the advisory collective, our solidarity partners, and the entire reDesign team as we build on this rich foundation.
As sweet and stirring a sound as it is, Reimagining the K-12 Content Map is only a single instrument in the orchestra we’re putting together. It’s contributing to our broader, concerted efforts to create lasting social impact in two primary ways.
First, it has inspired new approaches to organizing content, redefining the “WHAT” of learning. When paired with our research-based Learner-Centered Community Competencies that answer the “HOW” of learning, the two pieces together constitute a concrete yet revolutionary blueprint for learning that is anchored in concepts, topics, competencies, and skills. This blueprint is an essential component of our social impact model.
Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, Reimagining the K-12 Content Map planted the seeds of a collective — a deeply connected community of revolutionary educators, professionals, and academics with a commitment to steering the future of education in a learner-centered direction. Change at the highest level doesn’t happen in isolation, and the expertise we need to dissolve our outdated approaches to content knowledge and rebuild them from the ground up does not exist in any one place. A collective with a shared commitment to transformative education is therefore a truly powerful thing, and the other invaluable piece of our approach to social impact.
For these reasons and more, Reimagining the K-12 Content Map is the beckoning of a broader movement, a lighthouse in the fog. It’s a signal that we’re not playing small, that we’ve recognized the urgent need for a collective to reclaim education for our young people and truly empower them to thrive in a future that is uncertain at best, and crisis-laden at worst. It’s a clear and unambiguous statement — that we’re here to disrupt the prevailing ideology about the purpose and focus of school, and to creatively and collectively transform our society’s relationship with education.
As the larger movement continues to unfold, it feels important to tell the story of this trailblazing event, and the future it’s illuminating — and we challenged ourselves to tell it in a learner-centered way. For the Reimagining the K-12 Content Map design studio, that meant centering the experience and expertise of the people who did the work, instead of just the work itself. So, we commissioned a group of talented storytellers to help us tell the world about this little gathering that tried to tip the scales in favor of change.
In the Humans of RCM series, each piece tells the story of a design studio participant: who they are, what they stand for, and how they experienced the Design Studio. We hope it gives you a glimpse into the possibility carried within this movement — a path forward through the fog.