Over a three-year period, Barton and Ho, a former Visiting Professor at the IU School of Education and current Professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, worked on writing the book and were able to blend both Eastern and Western perspectives. As they developed their ideas for the book, they increasingly came to agree both justice and harmony should guide the curriculum for all students, even though the specific issues they considered differed by context.
“In the Western tradition, we often focus on justice, and the closely associated idea of rights,” Barton explained. “But as my co-author, Li-Ching Ho, has pointed out to me, the focus on rights and justice often leaves educators in East Asia cold, because it ignores harmony, which is the most important societal goal not only there but in many cultures around the world. In addition, throughout the book we draw from concepts central to Confucianism as guidelines for curriculum, such as the importance of extending students’ sense of benevolence from self to others, and the importance of discretion in making judgements about societal issues.”
One of their most important recommendations from the book is that schools have to engage students in deliberating how to address public policy issues related to justice and harmony: schools can’t just fill students with a mass of related information, in hopes that one day they will use that to make decisions about public issues.
“Everyone recognizes that schools should play a role in preparing students to make decisions as members of the public, but that’s where the agreement ends. There is no consensus on what students should learn about the social world, or even what it means to participate in public life,” Barton said. “We need only look around us to see the importance of preparing students to address societal problems, from food insecurity to lack of health care to mass incarceration to armed conflict to dumping of toxic waste in poor and minority communities. Yet schools have never adequately grappled with how they should do this. With this book, we hope to bring a vision to social and civic education, one that will enable students to grow into a life of public participation, and one in which they can make informed decisions about how to address the world’s most pressing problems—whether in their own communities or on the other side of the globe.”
One chapter the authors are particularly proud of is titled, “Listening to Distant Voices.” In this chapter, they emphasize the importance of listening to people whose perspectives are different.
“If students are deliberating issues that affect people in other countries, then they should be listening to their ideas and learning from their experiences; if they are making decisions about local populations experiencing food insecurity or lack of health care, then they should be listening to their insights as well,” Barton added. “Given the global reach of communications these days, and the easy availability of information, we are no longer justified in excluding the voices of others.”
Curriculum for Justice and Harmony is available for purchase from Routledge.