Journal of Education & Social Policy

ISSN 2375-0782 (Print) 2375-0790 (Online)

Implementing the Realms of Meaning as a Process for Selecting Curriculum
Arthur L. Petterway, Ph.D; James D. Laub, Ph.D.

The purpose of this article was to discuss what constitutes learning for the 21st Century middle level students often emphasize the importance of higher-order thinking, problem-solving skills, and integrating technology into education as part of a coherent curriculum for developing meaningful learning. Equally important is the learners' ability in applying personal knowledge and meanings to the curriculum and content presented. Combining these elements will both amplify and augment student learning, comprehension, and application. 21st Century middlelevel students need to acquire the skills, personal knowledge, and experiences for helping to determine their learning and educational processes. By facilitating the exploration of synnoetic and postmodernist tenets, educators can discuss and examine what strategies are effective and tantamount to middle-level students’ achievement and success. How do students acquire, recall, and apply knowledge? From Vygotsky and Piaget, to Dewey and Skinner, educational theorists have produced and espoused a myriad of ideas to help create curricula and delineate the “learning process.” Curriculum scholars obviously are in the business of generating knowledge, as are practitioners when they test ideas and techniques to solve curricular problems in their school settings (Wraga, 1997). John Dewey, the leading authority in the progressivism movement, wrote: “our whole policy of compulsory education rises and falls with our ability to make school life an interesting and absorbing experience to the child. We can have compulsory physical attendance at school; but education comes only through the willing attention to and participation in school activities.” Foundations of education are built around academic disciplines and activities. It follows that the teacher must select these activities with reference to the child’s interests, powers, and capacities (Ellis & Fouts, 2001). One tenet that educational theories share is that human beings are born with some innate abilities that influence thought processes, problem solving ability, and emotional behavior. Sometime, these abilities are reflexive and primal in nature. More often than not, these are learned abilities. Those who have attempted to integrate various curriculum areas have always faced the question of which subjects lend themselves to this endeavor and how those subjects might most be advantageously combined. Literature and history seem a natural fit, but does it make sense to try to integrate, for instance, music and life sciences or mathematics and art? Persuasive arguments have been made that such is the case (Ellis & Fouts, 2001). In his landmark book on curriculum development, Realms of Meaning, Philip Phenix espouses that students and teachers alike are prone to take the curriculum as they find it, as a traditional sequence of separate elements, without ever inquiring into the comprehensive pattern within which the parts are located. Phenix spells his abstract schema for curriculum, based on what he divides into six realms: symbolics, empirics, esthetics, synnoetics, ethics and synoptics. Each realm is comprised of specific curricula and disciplines, all of which are focused on the development of the “total” student – complete in mind, body, and spirit. A student must learn the meaning of words, gestures, and symbols before he/she can respond to them in a “culturally” accepted manner. Learners of all ages can successfully decipher these many messages, images and objects if given the opportunities and learning strategies (Villenueve, 2003) Student behavior is sometimes guided by society’s expectations, rules, and demands. When a student cannot meet these “conditions” set out by society, that student may be classified as defiant. Intelligence is no longer traced to verbal and nonverbal categories, but instead is understood as being reflected in various modes of expression and behavior (Sweeder, Bednar & Ryan, 1998).

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