Curriculum Theory / EDUC-910 Week 6 Readings

Post WWII curriculum reform—to do Greek or not to do Greek

Kliebard, H. (2004). The struggle for the American curriculum. Ch. 9–10, pp. 200–249. New York, NY: RoutledgeFalmer.

The American artist Norman Rockwell's take on post WWII America.

The American artist Norman Rockwell’s take on post WWII America.

Chapter 9, covers the years during and immediately after World War II and begins data-driven approach then the academic history of previous chapters. Predominantly, the immediate post-war period continued the trend of interest group ideologies, which Kliebard observed “became increasingly more difficult to recognize, at least in their pure form” (p. 202), as the buzzword of eclecticism continues to play out through this chapter.

Kliebard described educators as blaming the drop in wartime high school attendance “not on demographic factors or wartime conditions, but on the continued prominence of academic school subjects,” leading to redoubled efforts by some for “a much more functional and work-oriented course of study” (p. 202). As a result, Kliebard argued that vocational education began to rise in popularity.

According to Kliebard, reformers of elementary school curricula commonly viewed the child learner and the academic subject in opposition, while at the secondary level, the somewhat vague concept of a core curriculum. This referred to the blending of subjects or, sometimes, to the replacing of subject organization with a needs-based one.

Talking Point: This replacement of traditional subject organization with something more focused upon learner and societal requirements almost seems to approach Dewey’s ideas for progressive education.

Kliebard argued that, such a blending or replacement weakened traditional subject divisions. Referring to recent empirical studies of implementation, however, Kliebard stated:

“By and large, dethroning school subjects turned out to be a much more formidable task than the proponents of such change ever imagined.” (p. 218)

Talking Point: This would suggest to me that the rarified debates of conference goers and curriculum academics, were fare from being accepted by those at the chalkface. A real discrepancy between strategic philosophers and policy implementers.

Chapter 10, continue Kliebard’s discussion of the degree to which reform agendas were implemented in schools—specifically, how the major school subjects fared in the new battleground of the secondary schools (p. 223).

By midcentury. Latin, often a target of more social efficiency-minded, antiacademic reformers, declined in enrollment and course offerings, though “modern foreign languages” (MFL), “did not benefit materially” (p. 224), from the virtual demise of high school Latin and Greek, criticized by many opponents of the social efficiency model as a loss to classical education.


And not only Greek was replaced…

Aug. 9, 1945, a giant column of smoke rises more than 60,000 feet into the air, after the second atomic bomb ever used in warfare explodes over the Japanese port town of Nagasaki.

Aug. 9, 1945, a giant column of smoke rises more than 60,000 feet into the air, after the second atomic bomb ever used in warfare explodes over the Japanese port town of Nagasaki.

Traditional mathematical subjects, such as algebra, were increasingly replaced by non-academic mathematics courses and by alternatives to mathematics altogether. However, throughout the years during and after World War II, with the development of the nuclear age, there came a renewed drive for mathematics education, science and engineering education on social efficiency grounds related to military and defense requirements, and the potential for developing civilian uses for nuclear energy. In the push for merging subjects and unifying the sciences, biology and general science gained in popularity, while “certain once-popular specialized sciences,” such as physiology and botany, “lost ground” (p. 229).

In English, “what was once a collection of separate subjects” such as rhetoric and English literature “became fused together, although imperfectly” (p. 232). Kliebard argued, “to a large extent, they still existed as separate and distinct studies loosely combined under one subject label” (p. 232), as was also true for general science. Argument existed between “the defenders of history and proponents of a broad and directly functional social studies” (p. 236); ultimately, “social studies overwhelmingly became the preferred term for the subject, but the actual content remained predominantly historical” (p. 242)—though, as Kliebard observed, data are vague regarding what subjects fell under the rubric of social studies at mid-point of the 20th century.

More broadly, there was “the question of whether the subject, any subject, should remain the fundamental building block of the curriculum” (p. 245). Despite the ongoing clamor for radical structural reform, Kliebard described basic organizational elements of schools, such as the Carnegie unit, acting against curriculum change, as did the continued resistance of defenders of the academic subject as a way of systematically and logically organizing student learning:

“Calling attention to structures such as these should serve to remind reformers that winning the rhetorical battle is not even half a victory. For success to be achieved in terms of implementation, along with at least the prospect of durability, reformers need to contend with the relatively impervious structures of schooling that stand in the way of successful curriculum reform.” (p. 246)

Talking Point: This strikes me as an ironic point to make, given that much of Kliebard’s work in The Struggle for the American Curriculum, emphasizes the rhetorical confrontations of individuals and special interest groups, throughout his stated period of American education history. Anybody else’s thoughts?


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