Process and Product and an Integrated Curriculum

The recent Spring Chorus concert, in which students in all thee diviisons engaged a rapt audience of listeners and our many culminating projects and assessments got me thinking about an important part of the LREI educational experience.

At LREI and at most progressive schools, there is a significant focus on the "process," which serves as a foundation to our commitment to experiential learning. Embedded in this idea of "process" is an expectation that students reflect on their work and the thinking behind it. We want them to use this reflective stance to help them see their work from a variety of perspectives. This helps them to see the work as an on-going endeavor to be revisited, rethought, and reworked. At the same time, there is something important about the product of this work. It crystallizes and brings into focus the effort and energy that defines the process and, in its own way, the product stands as an achievement that has meaning and value.

The key is not to linger too long on the product so that it stands in the way of a new process. When the product becomes its own end, we lose an important opportunity for new learning. The artist Robert Rauschenberg speaks to this idea is a recent issue of The New Yorker when he comments that "It's always the moment of doing that counts. When a painting is finished it's already something I've done, no longer something I'm doing." It is in that same spirit that we seek to challenge our students to always be "in process" and to see a particular product as an opening to a new process, to always be doing and never content to be simply done.

I am continually struck by the richness of our integrated curriculum. The value of an integrated curriculum, which connects traditionally-separate subject areas is something that has been a core value at LREI from the very beginning. As Agnes De Lima notes in The Little Red School House:

We are, then, concerned in our curriculum to make sure that it affords the kind of experience and the kind of activities which will help children grow normally and naturally. The old-line pedagogue was continually asking, what must a child know, what knowledge is of most worth? We ask instead, What should a child be like, what ways of acting and what habits of repose are most worthwhile…. We take the child as he is and where his is, try to understand him, and then seek to help him understand the kind of world in which he lives and the part he is to play in it (p. 16).

The interesting thing is that through this process students learn an incredible amount of what we traditionally consider as subject area knowledge. More importantly, they learn how to use this information to solve authentic problems and to assess critically this knowledge. Through our integrated curriculum, inquiry occurs in a thematic and holistic manner. In this way, the curriculum empowers our students to see connections and to generalize and transfer knowledge to a variety of problem-solving situations. As we celebrate Founders Day tomorrow, I have no doubt the Elisabeth Irwin and her colleagues would be pleased with the current state of affairs here at LREI.