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Why Themes?
A Word from the Curriculum Developers

In the workplace, a small but significant revolution is occurring. In 1992, the Department of Labor issued the SCANS report (Secretary's Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills) which analyzed what changes would be needed to continue being competitive in a rapidly evolving global marketplace. The concept of the "high performance workplace" - where "every human being's resources are put to their best work... one that empowers workers to participate and fully utilize their knowledge" is central to these changes. How in this being accomplished?

Companies are changing, or being forced to change their corporate structure in profound ways. The hierarchical chain of command is swiftly becoming an outdated and unproductive form; in its place, a much more horizontal and diffused power structure is emerging. Workers are being asked to contribute , to create , and to connect with others across the managerial spectrum. They are joining with middle management in the decision making process; they are being expected to investigate problems, suggest new ways of resolving them and initiate change at all levels of production. In fact, the ability to adapt to change is perhaps on of the more fundamental skills they are being asked to develop.

In the educational arena, schools and colleges are struggling with the implications of these changes. As educators, we all feel a responsibility to provide students with a range of skills that will give them the best possible chance at success. However, we are faced with mounting evidence that traditional skills, subjects, methods of delivery and assessment are often irrelevant and inappropriate. We are being forced, not unlike those in the corporate world, to look again at some of our ,most basic beliefs about what education means, and must come to mean, in the 21st century.

These changes in both the workplace and in our educational institutions are not isolated; they are part of a complex weaving of cause and effect on a global level. Our world is indeed getting smaller; we have been saying this for decades now, and it is clearly coming to pass. We are truly global neighbors. What happens in Tokyo, Mexico, Chernobyl, or in the Northwest Territories has a direct impact on our lives here in the United States. We feel the presence of others, who were once strangers and for whom we felt little, if any, empathy, and we are struggling with questions of how these once alien "others" fit into our lives.

How can educators prepare students for such a world?
As the I-CANS project unfolded, those who were involved in its creation found that despite our individual differences, we agreed on a general set of principles which were to affect each of us, and what we created, in fundamental way. Most apparent was the belief that learning had to be "charged" for the student - that it had to have some passion, some vital quality that pushed a student to uncertainties he/she may have. Without this connection between the learner and what was being learned, the experiences in the classroom lack authenticity. We realized that in order to create authentic learning situations, we had to encourage students to make decisions about the things they wanted to learn. We also realized that each of us felt that learning, just like life, was a complex weaving of skills and experience - multi-modal, cross-disciplinary, and integrated. The traditional divisions between language and mathematics, science and art, politics and communication are no longer appropriate; instead, we saw the need to show the connections that bind these fields of inquiry together.

As instructors, we also have sought to bind the task of presenting assessment to these fields of inquiry. However, we are presenting assessment tools and strategies that encourage the learner and instructor to work together in this process. By stressing the collaborative and self-reflective nature of assessment, learners become more skilled at doing what they need to do most in the world of work: look at their performance, compare it with a standard, assess, and seek improvement.

And finally, we felt that at the basis of any passionate quest, any discovery, is a desire to find relationship, to see how things fit together. This curiosity is arguably are most human trait; it is what binds us as a community, both in the abstract sense, as exemplified in our intellectual pursuits, as well as in a more visceral way, as we explore relationship to one another. We believe that real learning took place when these relationships - between subjects, between ideas, and most importantly, between people - were explored, discussed, and celebrated.

The Chinese character for the word "change" combines the characters for both danger and opportunity, and that is perhaps appropriate for us as educators, as we reflect on the changes we are facing. It is a frightening thing to realize that new patterns may be required of us - patterns of thought, behavior, and policy. But it is also exciting; tremendously so. We hope that the new curriculum gives you, as it has us, as opportunity to reflect on your own beliefs and principles regarding the practice of education.

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