The Curriculum and the Study of the Curriculum

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The educational curriculum

From much of what follows in this book it will be clear that the term ‘curricu- lum’ can be, and is, used, for many different kinds of programme of teaching and instruction. Indeed, as we shall see, quite often this leads to a limited concept of the curriculum, defined in terms of what teaching and instruction is to be offered and sometimes also what its purposes, its objectives, are. Hence

we see statements of the curriculum for the teaching of the most basic courses in many different contexts. And we shall also see that much of the advice which has been offered for curriculum planning is effective only at the most simplis- tic levels, for teaching of a largely unsphisticated and usually unproblematic kind.

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For this kind of definition fails to take account of the educational or moral dimensions of the school curriculum. To take an extreme view, this kind of model could be used to help us plan a curriculum which most people would regard as being quite immoral – to limit the pupil’s scope for criticism, for example, to ensure political conformity and obedience or even to promote racist or religious intolerance.

Throughout this book, however, the concern will be with what we will be advocating as the educational curriculum. The focus will be not just on how one might plan any kind of curriculum, but on what it is that will ensure that our curriculum is justifiable in educational terms.

It is important, therefore, that at the outset we briefly define what we will mean by the term ‘educational’, because in all the many different dimensions of the curriculum which we will be exploring the concern will be to identify those which are acceptable educationally, i.e. those which satisfy our educational cri- teria, and, perhaps more importantly, those which do not.

It is not the intention here, or at any stage, to debate these criteria in detail. It is important, however, that they be clearly stated. There is a sense in which the adjective ‘educational’ is as problematic as the adjective ‘moral’; indeed, this is because the educational principles we are propounding are fundamen- tally moral principles, so that it must be accepted that they must be open to debate. There is also a sense, however, in which, if we accept that the curricu- lum we are discussing is a curriculum for education in a democratic society, its problematic nature, along with that of its moral base, begins to evaporate or at least to become less complex.

For few would wish to argue – at least openly – with the claim that, within a democratic society, an educational curriculum at all levels should be concerned to provide a liberating experience by focusing on such things as the promotion of freedom and independence of thought, of social and political empowerment, of respect for the freedom of others, of an acceptance of variety of opinion, and of the enrichment of the life of every individual in that society, regardless of class, race or creed.

Conversely, it is also the case that few would be prepared to argue – again at least openly – against the claim that the opposites of these principles have no place in an educational curriculum. Some of them, such as, for example, the promotion of intolerance, must be positively excluded from it. Others, however, such as that vocational focus which has become increasingly in evi- dence in recent years, while not meriting exclusion from the curriculum, must be recognized as not fitting appropriately with this definition of education, so

that, to the extent that the emphasis of the school curriculum is on its voca- tional concerns and dimensions, to that extent it will fail to meet our criteria for an educational curriculum.

The rest of this book will be concerned to discuss and explore many dimen- sions of curriculum from this kind of educational perspective and to identify in all of these dimensions those aspects of them which satisfy these educational principles and those which do not.

With this in mind, there are several important aspects of the curriculum which we should immediately note.

The total curriculum

It will be helpful if, from the start, we distinguish the use of the word to denote the content of a particular subject or area of study from the use of it to refer to the total program of an educational institution. Many people still equate a curriculum with a syllabus and thus limit their planning to a consideration of the content or the body of knowledge they wish to transmit or a list of the sub- jects to be taught or both. The inadequacies of this view of curriculum as content will be explored more fully in Chapters 2 and 3. It will be immediately clear, however, that this kind of definition of curriculum is limiting in more than one way and that it is likely to hamper rather than to assist the planning of curriculum change and development. Indeed, some of the inadequacies of previous attempts at curriculum planning can be attributed to the fact that it has tended to proceed in a rather piecemeal way within subjects rather than according to any overall rationale.

This dimension of curriculum development is, of course, important, but it is the rationale of the total curriculum that must have priority. ‘Schools should plan their curriculum as a whole. The curriculum offered by a school, and the curriculum received by individual pupils, should not be simply a collection of separate sub- jects’ (DES, 1981:12). At the very least, the total curriculum must be accorded prior consideration, and a major task that currently faces teachers and curriculum planners is to work out a basis on which some total scheme can be built.

Any definition of curriculum, if it is to be practically effective and produc- tive, must offer much more than a statement about the knowledge-content or merely the subjects which schooling is to ‘teach’ or transmit or ‘deliver’. It must go far beyond this to an explanation, and indeed a justification, of the purposes of such transmission and an exploration of the effects that exposure to such knowledge and such subjects is likely to have, or is intended to have, on its recipients – indeed it is from these deeper concerns, as we saw in the previous section, that any curriculum planning worthy of the name must start.

These wider concerns will be the focus of our discussions in this book, and we will understand by the term ‘curriculum’ the overall rationale for any edu- cational program. Much of what is said about curriculum development will,

of course, be of relevance to the problems of developments within individual subject areas, but the prime concern must be with the totality.

The ‘hidden’ curriculum

A further question that needs to be resolved is whether we are to place any limit on the kinds of school activity that we will allow to count as part of the cur- riculum when it is defined in this way.

For example, some educationists speak of the ‘hidden curriculum’, by which they mean those things which pupils learn at school because of how the work of the school is planned and organized, and through the mate- rials provided, but which are not in themselves overtly included in the planning or even in the consciousness of those responsible for the school arrangements. Social roles, for example, are learned in this way, it is claimed, as are sex roles and attitudes to many other aspects of living. Implicit in any set of arrange- ments are the attitudes and values of those who create them, and these will be communicated to pupils in this accidental and perhaps even sinister way. This factor is of course of particular significance when the curriculum is planned and imposed by government.

Some would argue of course that the values implicit in the arrangements made by schools for their pupils are quite clearly in the consciousness of teach- ers and planners, again especially when the planners are politicians, and are equally clearly accepted by them as part of what pupils should learn in school, even though they are not overtly recognized by the pupils themselves. In other words, those who design curricula deliberately plan the schools’ ‘expressive culture’. If this is the case, then, the curriculum is ‘hidden’ only to or from the pupils, and the values to be learned clearly form a part of what is planned for pupils. They must, therefore, be accepted as fully a part of the curriculum, and most especially as an important focus for the kind of study of curriculum with which we are concerned here, not least because important questions must be asked concerning the legitimacy of such practices.

Others, however, take a less definite and perhaps less cynical line on this but wish nevertheless to insist that teachers do have a responsibility here. They accept that some of the values and attitudes learned via the hidden curriculum are not directly intended by teachers, but believe that, since these things are being learned as a by-product of what is planned and of the materials provided, teachers should be aware of and accept responsibility for what is going on, for what their pupils are learning in this unplanned way. It is this view which is at the heart of attempts to eliminate implicit racism and sexism from the experi- ences children receive at school.

It is because of the all-pervasive nature of such experiences and hidden forms of learning, however, and also because of the assumed impossibility of elimi- nating such unplanned, and thus uncontrolled, learning, that some theorists,

such as Ivan Illich (1971), have recommended a ‘deschooling’ of society and have claimed that all forms of organized schooling must involve the imposition of the values implicit in the selection of the content of such schooling on its recipients, and thus constitute an invidious form of social and political control through the distribution of knowledge. This is an important point and one to which we shall return in Chapter 2. What it suggests which is of importance here, however, is that, if we are not to go to the lengths of abolishing school- ing altogether, we cannot merely ignore these hidden aspects of the school cur- riculum, and certainly must not adopt a definition of curriculum which excludes them from all critical consideration. Rather our definition must embrace all the learning that goes on in schools whether it is expressly planned and intended or is a by-product of our planning and/or practice. For it is diffi- cult to exonerate teachers completely from responsibility for these implicit forms of learning. Rather they need to be sensitized to them and helped to rec- ognize and identify the hidden implications of some of the materials and the experiences they offer their pupils. 

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