Deep Mapping the Curriculum


Mapping the curriculum, as I discussed in my last post, is a worthy aspiration, but it doesn’t take us far enough. What we really need is a deep map.

What is that? you ask.

A deep map works with a vertical as well as a horizontal axis. It describes geology as well as surface features. It features memories and values and stories as well as grid references. Deep maps look at all that has gone into making a space a place.

This isn’t a fanciful idea of my own. Far from it. The deep map has been called “the essential next step” for humanities study. (Bodenhamer, Corrigan and Harris, 2015, p.1) And the best known example of a deep map is William Least Heat-Moon’s PrairyErth, which is a deep map of Chase County, Kansas. (Sadly the author’s name is a pseudonym, but it’s still a great name.)

So why do we need a deep map?

There is so much we would like our students to know that we can overload them and ourselves with stuff to teach. But maybe we should be thinking as much about where as what. Many students spend most of their time inside peering at screens. They rarely get out and explore. They have little or no knowledge of the bedrock, the botany, the trees, the geography of the place where they are. They know little of its history, its stories, its people. So maybe the best place for us to start is where we are.

I would love to create a deep map, partly because I know it would have to be a long-term project, and partly because I know that it would have to bring Economics, Science, Mathematics, History, Geography, Literature, and a few subjects that are not tested by GCSEs, A Levels or the IB, into one place.

I would like to create a deep map that draws on the knowledge of the whole community, that is inter-disciplinary by nature, that helps students get in touch with the real (that is, with beauty, truth and goodness). And that is vital because, as the wonderful Matthew Crawford reminds us, “the root cause of boredom … is a passive mind not engaged with real things.”

And this isn’t just a project for students. In a fascinating blog post, Jeffrey Bond argues that “teachers themselves must be students of that which they do not know, not only so that they may continue to learn themselves, but also so that they may provide a living model for their students.” Rachel Carson makes a similar point in A Sense of Wonder: “If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder … he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement, and mystery of the world we live in.” One way of helping our students find truth, goodness and beauty is to search for it ourselves or, even better, to search for it with them.

But let me finish with the Australian-born lawyer turned author and publisher, Frank Sheed, who once wrote a great book called A Map of Life, in which he wrote that a “map is concerned with the surface and cannot tell you in detail of the treasures that lie beneath,” adding that “on the field here mapped, there is no point at which one may not dig with immeasurable profit”.

It’s now time to dig deep. It’s time to create some deep maps.

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