Curriculum Theory

Conflicting conceptions of curriculum—30 years before Kliebard (2004)

Elliott Eisner

Elliott Eisner

Eisner, E., & Vallance, E. (Eds.). (1974). Conflicting conceptions of curriculum. Berkeley, CA: McCutchan Publishing.

In the introduction, the authors recognize that the complexity of goals, content and organization of curriculum leads to diverse interpretations and opinions by all stakeholders and to representations by politicians and media. Frequently resulting public controversy. The article then go’s on to describe what they see as five main themes to curriculum study, gleaned from a detailed examination of literature current at the time of publication (1974).

The authors described curriculum as being what, when and how a topic should be taught and to whom. They distilled the ideas of student-centered education and the requirements of society into a continuum with morals and values at one end and traditional academic skills (literacy, numeracy and technical) at the other.

One problem I had at the very beginning of this article, was that they seemed to put forward the case that one approach would exclude another—social reconstruction, being skills-centered in order to rebuild a damaged society, would be exclusive of the moral and value considerations of the self-actualizing approach—and I’m not convinced I agree with that at all. Your thoughts?

Cognitive Processes Approach
Focusing on how to teach, rather than what to teach. Attempting to improve the ways in which students learn to learn and methods of optimizing teaching to take advantage of the ways in which a student learns (e.g., aural, visual and kinesthetic).

Curriculum as Technology
As described here, almost seems to accompany the cognitive processes approach, in that it too centers on the how a student learns, but rather than focusing on the student, it concentrates on the technology used to communicate a pre-defined objective to the student. Thus developing a “technology of instruction”. To me this is unique in that it doesn’t really focus on the learner or the topic, but rather the methodology of communicating an idea, as if all students were machines that could be programmed with an array of instructions that could process the input of any topic (be it pottery or geography), and result in a trained/educated individual.

Elizabeth Vallance

Elizabeth Vallance

Curriculum for Self-Actualization or Consummatory Experience
Originally the authors seem to define this as two separate approaches, but then go on to discuss self-actualization and the consummatory experience together. This seemed logical to me, but I wondered what, if any differentiation existed.

Student-centered, it’s possible to interpret this apporach as the epitome of Freire’s personal liberation by problem-solving (Freire, 2008). An enabling process of self-liberation from ignorance or the oppressive regime. It appeals to me for its integration of cognitive process and technology to enable liberation through academic and value-based education. In addition, as a behavioural ecologist, I can relate to any approach that can include Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (Maslow, 1943)as part of its rationale.

Curriculum for Social Reconstruction
Places the student in the context of societal needs. The student is being educated in order to better fits the needs of their society and culture in order to repair that which is seen as flawed and requiring alteration. I’ve always had some sympathy for this approach, in that I can’t really see how the educated, liberated students of the consummatory approach could be bad for society in the long-run, and would therefore affect a change on society for the better… thereby, ultimately, bringing about a form of social reconstruction. But maybe I’m just an idealist. Anybody else’s thoughts?

Academic Rationalism
The traditional education of my youth. Bringing back memories of a tall, thin, cadaverous looking teacher in gown and mortar-board making us recite the Periodic Table three times at the end of every chemistry lesson. A traditional doctrine of infusing a student with enough facts and figures to make them a functioning member of society, prioritizing certain subjects over others regardless of student ability or inclination. A triumph of the logical over the psychological.

Despite how disparaging I seem to be of this approach, I still can’t help but acknowledge that memorizing my times tables, my alphabet and later, the properties of the normal distribution in parametric statistics was a necessity as part of my own development.

Which kind of leads me to a conclusion about the articles’ conclusion and the three fallacies they highlight… formalism—what’s important is not what is taught but how; content—what’s important is not how is taught but what; universalism—that all students will develop best with the same optimal curriculum. The logical over the psychological again.

My conclusion is the same here as I have reached over so many other arguments… it’s just not as simple as you might think. Curriculum must really be a blend of all of the above to be successful for both the individual and, eventually, for society.

Anybody else’s thoughts?


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