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Curriculum Theory Essay

Historical accounts of public education reaching back into the nineteenth century reveal successive waves of polarization of view points, limited approaches to curriculum development, and recurring upsurges of dissatisfaction with school offerings. Curriculum development activities in the past show a seeming lack of rigorous, systematic thinking about curriculum development and give insight into the attic thinking about curriculum development and give insight into the need for an adequate theory of curriculum development.

Without an inclusive theory of curriculum theory, child-centered, society-centered, subject-centered, and other approaches of limited dimensions will continue to compete with each other as exclusive routes to curriculum planning. Evidence of a long succession of limited approaches to curriculum development may be found in historical literature. In the colonial era, free public schooling had not yet been conceived. The prevailing concept at that time, borrowed from European schools, was that education was for the elite-a view that haunted public education in one way or another for generations.

Traditional Theory The American Revolution added new power to the emerging spirit of democracy and focused new attention on schools and education. The colonial view that formal schooling was only for the upper classes came into question, and public schooling was introduced in this country. Its expressed purpose is in the poster evolutionary period were to inculcate moral standards by transmitting the traditional culture — a job previously.

American culture out of the diverse cultures brought here by immigrants from many countries. Although educators viewed the Dewey (1916) concept as desirable, they disagreed on how to carry it out in practice. To some it meant a school without structure or predetermined objectives and content. Harold Rugg viewed such superficial interpretations with alarm in 1926 and urged educators to realize that curriculum-making is a complex, highly specialized task that must be the cooperative endeavor of many minds.

Despite its varied interpretations, the Dewey (1916) concept brought an upsurge of curriculum development in the 1920s and 1930s that moved away from traditional classicism and toward emphasis on the needs of the individual and of society. Dewey (1916) finds that, when pupils are a “traditional” class rather than a social group, the teacher acts largely from the outside and not as a director of processes of exchange in which all have a share. In Dewey’s (1916) view, when education is based on experience and educative experience is seen to be a social process, the situation changes radically.

Planning, in their view, is the structuring of a living situation with a wide range of educative alternatives. The transactions that take place within this structure cannot be planned in the traditional manner. They are more in the nature of “planned accidents” . . . . The curriculum is the cultural environment which has been selected as a set of possibilities for learning transactions (Dewey, 1916) When a range of educational alternatives is available, the principle of choice becomes an essential consideration in planning for freedom.

The preceding discussion gives numerous examples of needs assessment procedures that encompass far broader concepts of needs than the traditional expert-determined or producer-determined needs or the narrow definition of needs that arises from comparison of student achievement scores with national norms on standardized tests. The examples given here include psychological needs as well as educational needs and describe ongoing procedures in various parts of the country in which individuals and groups directly concerned with a curriculum development process are also involved in identifying the needs that curriculum and instruction should meet.

Structure of Disciplines Theory The work of Jerome Bruner (1960) and others emphasized the “structure of the disciplines” as a basis for curriculum design. Burner called attention to the general usefulness of structure within a discipline as an organizing principle, but he did not set forth a comprehensive curriculum development theory. Hilda Taba ( 1962) noted that the either/or practice still prevailed and that, while in the 1930s the cry was for attention to the child, in the 1950s the battle was to reintroduce disciplined content, with the problem of balance still unresolved.

James Macdonald (1971) observed that the “curriculum reform movement” of the 1950s and 1960s was in no real sense a movement, because its separate parts were never really related or coordinated. Rather, it was a historical accident — a combination of Sputnik, McCarthyism, interested professors, federal money, and the ambitions of commercial publishers. Structure identifies order or sequence or notes that order is immaterial. Structure for an individual may develop from his or her interests and motivations, when a range of alternatives is available.

Jerome Bruner’s widely publicized statement in The Process of Education (1960) that anything worth teaching can be taught in some intellectually honest way at any level has conveyed the impression to a wide audience that there is some definite pattern of construction or organization of the subject matter of the separate disciplines that should be known by curriculum-makers and used in sequencing information to impart it to children in an efficient and effective way. This point of view influenced the curriculum “reforms” of the 1960s, which did not in actuality reform curriculum.

John Dewey (1916) would probably not have advocated a rigid or set structure as an intellectually honest way to introduce children to life and experience. Knowledge, of course, must be integrated to be meaningful, and curriculum structure can be constructed not only within the separate disciples but also across disciplines or interdisciplinary areas of social, cultural, or personal interest. As a system of ideas and beliefs, it includes aspects of the cognitive world isolated by disciplines and/or subjects in terms of facts, information, generalizations, principles, laws, and the like.

. . . Cultural systems are substantive aspects of social and personality systems and evolve in a constant interaction shaped and influenced by the dynamics of structures and actions in . . . culture, society, and personality (Macdonald 1971). George Counts (1952) maintained that the responsibilities of the school included curriculum development directed toward constructive modification and development of the nation’s economy, social structure, cultural institutions, and outlook on the world.

Curriculum development should lead toward creating as well as transmitting culture, meeting and maintaining democratic social relationships, and increasing individual self-realization, Counts asserted. The scope of available culture is almost limitless. It involves societal conditions, knowledge from the academic disciplines, professional knowledge about learning and educative processes, philosophical and value bases, futures research, realities in the classroom, pluralistic ethnic backgrounds of the participants, and their needs and desires.

Behavioral Theory A dominant influence on curriculum development since the early1950s has been the Tyler rationale, set forth in Ralph Tyler Basic Principles of Curriculum and Instruction (1950). Tyler’s frequently credited with providing impetus for the behavioral objectives movement of recent years. Its advocate proposition is that instructional goals be stated in behavioral terms, with built-in criteria for measurement of outcomes. Selections are then made from alternative activities expected to help the student attain the desired behavioral objectives.

Scope and sequence decisions follow, and evaluation is carried out. Various interpretations of this approach have led to highly technical procedures to develop a preplanned program of behavioral objectives closely tied to subsequent measures of achievement. Behavioral and other models adapted from Tyler seem to over- emphasize educational need and underestimate psychological need. Although Tyler was cognizant of the latter and referred to two types of need, he gave psychological need no more than a nod of recognition (Tyler, 1950):

The inclusion of psychological need in curriculum development is advocated by those who fear that overemphasis on behavioral objectives, academic achievement, and grading may develop negativism among students toward school learning. Academic objectives retain their importance, but these planners also stress the importance of psychological processes, human relations, positive mental health, and student involvement in setting goals, selecting options, learning how to work toward goals, and developing persistence in spite of occasional failures.

Arthur Combs (1972), taking a strong position, outlines the hazards of accountability programs that focus almost exclusively on test scores of detailed behavioral objectives. A truly comprehensive approach to accountability, he says, must consider at least five major problems related to curriculum and instruction: 1. Basic skills. Specific, atomistic behavioral objectives can be applied successfully only to simple skills and problems for which they are appropriate and must be constantly updated. The information explosion and rapidity of change make “right” behaviors rapidly obsolete.

2. Intelligence and holistic behavior. Accountability must contribute maximally to intelligent behavior and problem-solving action directed toward fulfillment of the individual’s and society’s needs. 3. The nature of learning and the causes of behavior. Attention should be concentrated on the causes of behavior rather than on behavior itself. Personal meanings are the causes of behavior, and these are formed through two aspects of learning: the provision of new information or experience, and the discovery by the learner of its personal meaning for him. 4. Humanistic goals of education.

Developing humane qualities, self-actualization of the individual, good citizenship, learning to care for others, and working together are all aspects of humanism for which schools must be accountable. “We can live with a bad reader,” says Combs, “but a bigot is a danger to everyone,” (Combs, 1972) 5. Professional accountability. Teachers can and should be held accountable for professional behavior: being informed in subject matter, being concerned about the welfare of students, being knowledgeable about their behavior, and understanding human behavior in general.

Professional educators may be held professionally responsible for the purposes they seek to carry out and the methods they use. Constructivist Theory Outside the fortress of elitism’ in secondary education, political, social, and educational leaders began to awaken to the broader responsibilities of the schools and to look to the public schools for constructive approaches to the public’s needs and problems.

Mark Chesler, a frequent observer and consultant in disrupted schools, gained some insights into procedures that seem to hold promise for constructive change. In “School Crisis and Change” ( 1970), he asserts that when school officials sought only superficial techniques for reestablishing the status quo, stress and turmoil were more likely to continue. When collaborative decision-making procedures were instituted among students, community people, school executives, and faculty, meaningful and positive curriculum improvements began to takes place.

A statewide assessment of the Michigan plan, conducted by Ernest House, Wendell Rivers, and Daniel Stufflebeam (1974), reflected general support of the accountability process in principle but was highly critical of the implementation of the plan in Michigan. The evaluators pointed out that attention had been limited mainly to reading and arithmetic at two grade levels, that no constructive purpose had been gained by ranking schools on norm-referenced tests, and that the promise of providing needs assessment in relation to the full scope of goals had not been pursued.

It is obvious that curriculum development must be a responsive process, constantly extending, expanding, and revising the curriculum. This requires continuous planning of learning outcomes that will help individuals draw effectively on growing realms of knowledge, develop new skills in a rapidly changing world, and develop insights into and constructive approaches to unresolved problems. The process of curriculum development must continue to be responsive to needs and problems and to generate alternative means for reaching desirable ends

George Counts (1952) maintained that the responsibilities of the school included curriculum development directed toward constructive modification and development of the nation’s economy, social structure, cultural institutions, and outlook on the world. Curriculum development should lead toward creating as well as transmitting culture, meeting and maintaining democratic social relationships, and increasing individual self-realization, Counts asserted. Research studies have found that very young as well as older students formed important and serious work groups to discuss, plan, and carry out activities in cooperation with adults.

In the cases reported, the schools provided constructive learning situations in which children were involved in forging their own roles, working out relationships, and assuming responsibility for self-evaluation. In these situations the teacher acted as guide and resource rather than a not- to-be-questioned authority, critic, and judge. A systems approach is an analytic rather than an erratic approach. It requires planning and action to be accomplished in a manner that allows participants to revise the plans, as action and experience proceed, and incorporate constructive improvements.

A systems approach requires initiative and commitment. Curriculum-planners using a systems approach must be ready to document and make public exactly what they are doing, why they are doing it, and how the curriculum is being developed. The participants and consumers must evaluate the curriculum development effort so that it can be continually improved. Experiential Theory Active critics and reformers on the contemporary scene can be classified roughly into three categories. One includes those who focus on individual freedom in learning.

They are sometimes termed the “romantics” or “radicals,” and they advocate free schools or the elimination of schools as they now exist. The free school movement can be traced to the publication of A. S. Neill’s Summerhill in 1960 and became manifested in various types of “free schools,” emphasizing experiential learning that places the highest priority on the “self” of the individual. Advocates of de schooling see hope in a network of opportunities for incidental education through which each child can discover itself and pursue his or her particular interests in special ways.

In Kohlberg’s (1972) studies the main experiential determinants or causal factors in moral development seem to be the amount and variety of the child’s social experience and the opportunities he or she has had to assume a number of roles and to take other perspectives into account. Being able to put oneself in another’s place is a source of principles; for example, when parents sought their children’s views and elicited comparisons of views in dialogues, the children reached more advanced stages of moral development. Roger Pillet (1971) asserts that researchers have perpetuated a separation of experiential theory and practice.

He lists as shortcomings (1) the locus of the leadership function in curriculum development that is external to the teachers, administrators, parents, and students who are expected to become users; (2) the negation of reality that occurs when new programs are designed on paper without regard to the knowledge and experience of the learners and educators who are expected to become the users; and (3) the use of abstract language that reduces the possibility of communication among those involved in various aspects of curriculum development. References Bruner Jerome S.

The Process of Education. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1960. Chesler Mark A. “School Crisis and Change”. In Student Unrest: Threat or Promise? edited by Richard L. Hart and J. Galen Saylor, pp. 100-21. Washington, D. C. : Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. 1970. Combs Arthur W. Educational Accountability. Beyond Behavioral Objectives, Washington, D. C. : Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 1972. Counts George S. Education and American Civilization. New York: Bureau of Publications, Teachers College University, 1952.

Dewey John. Democracy and Education. New York: Macmillan, 1916. pp. 17 House Ernest R. ; Rivers Wendell; and Stufflebeam Daniel L. “An Assessment of the Michigan Accountability System”. Phi Delta Kappan 55 (June 1974): 663-69. Kohlberg Lawrence. “Moral Education in the Schools: A Developmental View”. In Curriculum and the Cultural Revolution, edited by David E. Purpel and Maurice Belanger, pp. 455-78, Berkeley: McCutchan, 1972. Macdonald James B. “Curriculum Development in Relation to Social and Intellectual Systems”, In The Curriculum: Retrospect and Prospect, part I, pp.

97-98. Seventieth Yearbook of the National Society for the Study of Education, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1971. Pillet Roger A. “Boundaries of a Curriculum Network”, In Elements of Curriculum Development, pp. 7-11, Monograph supplement of Curriculum Theory Network. Toronto: Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, 1971. Taba Hilda. Curriculum Development: Theory and Practice. New York: Harcorut, Brace and World, 1962. Tyler Ralph W. Basic Principles of Curriculum and Instruction, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1950. pp. 7-8

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