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Volume 11, Number 5
September/October 1995

Knowing No Boundaries

A Conversation with James Beane


Perhaps the best-known American advocate of curriculum integration, James Beane separates himself from many of the others by calling for a complete dissolution of subject-area boundaries for almost all pre-college instruction. A professor of education at National-Louis University in Evanston, Illinois, Beane helps schools around the U.S. as well as in Canada and Australia implement integrated programs. He is the author or editor of nine books on the subject, including Affect in the Curriculum: Toward Democracy, Dignity, and Diversity (Teachers College Press, 1990) and A Middle School Curriculum: From Rhetoric to Reality (National Middle School Association, 1993). He was interviewed for the Harvard Education Letter by Michael Sadowski.

HEL: How did you first become committed to the idea of curriculum integration?

Beane: I started as a junior and senior high school teacher in the mid-1960s, and I saw that there was something fundamentally wrong with schools. Like a lot of people, I was concerned about the injustices I saw in things like school structures, grouping, and grading. I did a lot of reading about the progressive education movement and core curriculum, and ended up doing my doctoral dissertation on it. I also did a lot of reading about values, moral education, and self-esteem issues with kids.

Unlike people who talked about doing "activities" or changing the structure of schools, I wanted to see how the curriculum could be more nurturing. I saw what was happening to kids in school. School seemed to be a place where their self-esteem was constantly at risk. They had no say in what went on in their lives. Now, when we plan with young people, we're dispersing ownership of knowledge and kids have a say about what counts.

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