Curriculum Theory

Curriculum design according to Ornstein & Hunkins (2009)

Ornstein & Hunkins (2009)

Ornstein & Hunkins (2009)

Ornstein, A., & Hunkins, F. (2009). Curriculum: Foundations, principles, and issues. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

Curriculum Design, pp. 190–206

The authors considered what they argued were three basic themes of curriculum design (1) subject-centered; (2) learner-centered; and (3) problem-centered designs.

Subject Centered Design
Aside from some re-phrasing, this section remains very similar to the 2004 version. The authors identified this as being “by far the most widely used” of curriculum designs, especially in the guise of the traditional “academic rationalist” approach epitomized by theorists such as Tyler. Separating subject matter from learners’ experiences and depositing facts and figures using Freire’s banking metaphor in a passive approach to learning. Ornstein & Hunkins then point out that critics say this may result in a generic approach to learning, not taking into account individual learner’s needs and does not allow a program to be tailored to such.

I think we have all been taught, and if not, have probably taught others, under this curriculum rationale. It seems almost impossible to completely escape, despite how so much time and effort is put into identifying its shortcomings. It still appears to be the basis of a working system.

Comments anyone?

Broad Fields Design
The authors describe differing approaches to subject-centered curricula (e.g., broad fields design), where two or more subjects may be amalgamated and taught as a theme of “emergent clusters of problems and questions”. This approach would seem to characterize the opposite end of the spectrum, where depositing facts and figures gives way to active problem-solving.

Problems are identified (e.g., breadth of topic versus depth of investigation) and the relative requirements for each. These requirements are discussed by the authors, but it would seem to me that the variations in the breadth vs. depth of detail ratio would depend entirely on the themes being studied and the sub-topics therein (e.g., population dynamics may be due to immigration, emigration, births and deaths, but the process of one may be more important than the others).

It’s interesting to note that on page 195, the authors state “[t]he broad-fields design may be the most active in the future, allowing for hybrid forms of content and knowledge in the curriculum…” The date of this post is probably a bit further on in the future than the authors originally considered or hoped?

What are other people’s thoughts on this?

Correlation Design
Again, not many changes from the 2004 version to the 2009. A kind of “watered-down” broad fields design (a restricted field?), where correlating topics may be taught with a narrower focus (e.g., in my own area, mathematics/statistics and the science of population ecology).

My own personal experience is that such an approach can be extremely valuable, yet as the authors point out, it can be difficult to organize and schedule lesson blocks and resources effectively.

Thoughts/experiences anyone?

Process Design
The learning of the relevant methods of studying a particular subject, e.g., experimental investigation of a null hypothesis in science, that develop learning strategies such as problem-solving, decision-making and conceptualizing.

In the 2004 version of this text, the authors had an excellent quotation, which, much to my disappointment, they have dropped in the 2009 version… “Thinking critically is not unique to history or physics. Neither is thinking creatively the sole domain of art or literature.” Apparently replaced with “[c]urricula for teaching critical thinking exemplify this procedural design.” I can’t help but think that did not improve the message.

Still present, though edited is the citation of Jean Francois Lyotard’s arguments, “we engage in process not to reach consensus but to search for instabilities.” (p. 196) This can be analysed in so many different ways and is still thought-provoking. To me, it both embodies and contradicts the essence of scientific investigation. The very essence of which is to develop a working theoretical model of nature. We do this by developing theories, searching for their instabilities and developing new, more stable theories that can never be absolutely proven (they’re tentative) but are made more valid by experimental replication, falsifiability and their ability to predict new observations and discoveries. This, in turn, becomes the consensus that Lyotard says is, or should be, unlooked for.

Anybody care to develop this thought?

Learner-Centred Designs
“Learning should not be separated from the ongoing lives of students… Indeed, it should be based on students’ lives, their needs and interests.”

Knowledge as an Outgrowth of Student Experience.
The on-going, complicated conversation, where all experiential learning from family and influences of society as a whole are combined with what is provided in school. In addition, the school curriculum should take this into account and provide a supportive, developmental position which allows for an individual student’s cultural background.

Not all Cultural Backgrounds are Equal
I have a fundamental opposition to just accepting that a students’ cultural background and prior experiential learning are all as equally valid as each others. Amongst a whole variety of other examples of cultural influences that form “students’ lives, needs and interests” (e.g., extremist political or racist ideals, or even forms of culturally-based physical abuse such as female circumcision), there are far less extreme scenarios in which, I believe, education should be entirely contrary to “students’ lives” and the cultural backgrounds which help form their interests and experiential learning. I’ll pose some ethical questions based on prior legal precedent from the United States…

In 1972 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on a test case, Wisconsin v. Yoder, which concerned the right of parents to withdraw their children from school on religious grounds. A group of Amish parents in Wisconsin withdrew their children from highschool and the State of Wisconsin took the parents to court, claiming that the children were being deprived of their right to an education. The case eventually reached the United States Supreme Court, which handed down a split (6:1) decision in favour of the parents. The majority opinion, written by Chief Justice Warren Burger, included the following: “As the record shows, compulsory school attendance to age 16 for Amish children carries with it a very real threat of undermining the Amish community and religious practice as they exist today; they must either abandon belief and be assimilated into society at large, or be forced to migrate to some other and more tolerant religion.”

Justice William O. Douglas’s minority opinion was that the children themselves should have been consulted. Did they really want to cut short their education? Did they, indeed, really want to stay in the Amish religion?

Even if the children had been asked and had expressed a preference for the Amish religion, can we suppose that they would have done so if they had been educated and informed about the available alternatives? For this to be plausible, shouldn’t there be examples of young people from the outside world voting with their feet and volunteering to join the Amish religion?

Justice Douglas went further in a slightly different direction. He saw no particular reason to give the religious views of parents special status in deciding how far they should be allowed to deprive their children of education. If religion is grounds for exemption, might there not be secular beliefs that also qualify?

My question, in closing is, when considering learner-centered curriculum design, which takes into account on-going and prior experiential learning, as discussed by Ornstein and Hunkins, where should society “draw a line”, at what point should we—as educators and members of a humane society—say “we know better”?

Surely there must come a point where society and education within that society, takes a lead over certain cultural norms? Especially if those norms deprive a student of an education or twist that education in a way which is fundamentally incorrect (e.g., creationism vs. evolution), morally wrong (e.g., promoting an extremist political agenda), or physically harmful (e.g., female genital mutilation)?

Having students “negotiate the curriculum” may empower them, and may provide opportunities to “construct their own curricula and learning” (p. 198), but that doesn’t mean the curricula constructed will be of any real worth. The notion that it would be, because of this process of empowerment, seems to me to be fundamentally flawed.

The ideas of the “romantic radicals” that current systems can indoctrinate rather than emancipate students can be, and are, “turned on their heads” by cases such as Wisconsin v. Yoder (1972). A problem-solving, learner centred rationale to curriculum, as propounded by Freire (2008), must still answer to some form of overarching standard of accuracy, or else emancipation can simply mean that the student is free to learn that the earth is flat, the mentally ill are possessed by demons and communication technology is evil.

Problem-Centred Designs
This appears to me to be an adaptation of the social reconstructionist approach to curriculum. Concentrating on perceived faults in society and students, as a product of this approach, can enter society and address these faults.

A particular paragraph interests me in this section…

“Some critics believe that life-situations design does not adequately expose students to their cultural heritage… However if students are educated to be critical of their social situations, they will intelligently assess, rather than blindly adhere to, the status quo.” (p. 204).

Just because a given culture has a normative tradition (e.g., female circumcision), doesn’t mean that it should be perpetuated. This leads nicely into the logic of the “reconceptualists” and their belief that curriculum should “provide students with the learning requisite for altering social, economic, and political realities.”

Now, I may be a bit of an idealist, but isn’t that what education should be about? Improving society rather than perpetuating a status quo?

Once again, thoughts please anybody.


2 thoughts on “Curriculum design according to Ornstein & Hunkins (2009)

  1. Pingback: On Understanding by Design I. | Talk Curriculum

  2. Pingback: On Understanding by Design II. | Talk Curriculum

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