Curriculum is a word whose usage sometimes strays from its established meanings. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary gives two meanings for curriculum: “the courses offered by an educational institution” and “a set of courses constituting an area of specialization” (“Curriculum”). The following examples show correct uses of the term, following these definitions:

The university is reviewing its curriculum.

The liberal arts curriculum at my local community college is stellar.

The English curriculum includes several courses in the general studies program.

Writers sometimes misuse curriculum to mean a course, as in this statement: “Creating homework assignments is an important step in designing a curriculum.” And consider the next example, in which curriculum seems to refer to some element of a course: “Teachers must learn to structure their assignments and curriculum around learning goals.” Here, the word lessons might substitute for curriculum.

Writers who misuse curriculum would do well to refresh their understanding of the word’s dictionary meanings, because a convention of misusing the term leads to problems of interpretation in otherwise clear sentences such as the following:

When we revise a curriculum, we must consider the values and assumptions that were implicit in the initial framework.

If curriculum could refer to a body of courses, a single course, or an element of a course, then the above sentence might need to be rewritten to clarify which definition is intended.

Adhering to the dictionary meanings of curriculum will not only make your writing easier to read but also support a convention of correct usage that benefits readers and writers alike.

Work Cited

“Curriculum.” Merriam-Webster Unabridged, 2022, unabridged.merriam-webster.com/collegiate/curriculum.

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Michael Simon

Michael Simon is assistant editor at the MLA. He received an MFA in poetry from Columbia University and a BA in comparative literature from Brown University. Before coming to the MLA, he worked as an editor for several academic publishers.