Prototype of Chapter 17 from Clabaugh & Rozycki Understanding Schools HarperCollins 1990
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Introduction an ancient disagreement
Knowledge as a Commodity
...whether they attempt to preserve or reshape society, curriculum policymakers are inescapably involved in a political act, for their positions will have some bearing upon who gets what, when and how now and in the future.Preview
----William Lowe Boyd "The Politics of Curriculum Change and Stability"
Educational Research 8:2 (February 1979) pp. 12-18.
In this chapter we will address the critical question. "What should be taught?" We will see that our answers depend on our image of the school. A variety of interests have brought about that scope and sequence of subject matter that is the present school curriculum. The medieval trivium, rhetoric, logic and grammar, once vocational training for the few, has evolved into today's academics for the many. Conceptions of human nature, of society and of the good, have contributed to this curriculum. So, too, have the very practical concerns of many interested parties.
We will learn that curricula of different kinds represent different value choices. Just as policy and implementation can vary widely, so, too, can the subject matter actually taught vary from that proposed. We will also look at the way knowledge is transformed into a commodity, a "thing" which can be parceled out and exchanged in a market. The commodification of knowledge, the disciplines as we recognize them, and the nature of the curriculum are intimately related.
Introduction An ancient disagreement
As things are, there is disagreement about the subjects. For mankind are by no means agreed about the things to be taught, whether we look to virtue or the best life. -- AristotleIt appears that some progress has been made since the time of Aristotle. Certainly, it seems there is broad agreement about which subjects schools should teach. Anyone examining the curriculum documents of the different states will see that they are amazingly uniform. In many places the curriculum of private schools is hardly distinguishable from that of the public schools. Certainly, that lack of consensus Aristotle bemoaned has been remedied. Or has it?
We might wonder about the great classroom-to-classroom variation in subject matter that John Goodlad reports. (Cf. John Goodlad, A Place Called School pp. 132-138.) History here is may not be History there. Course titles may have as little to say about course content as reform slogans have to say about results. Perhaps this is the reason for recurring concern about the lack of knowledge of American students. In 1985, for example, a panel of nine prominent educators were concerned enough to advise the National Institute of Education to cut back on research on the cognitive development of students so that it should devote a greater percentage of its dollars to define a common core of knowledge for American students. ("Researchers Urge E.D. Effort to Define 'Common Core'" Education Week April 24, 1985 , p.9) If there really were broad agreement on what is to be taught, such a recommendation would make no sense.
There are also the basic organizational conflicts to consider. They reappear in different guise in the curriculum area. There is, for example, the quarrel over the process versus the product of curriculum. The debate takes the following form: is it the learning process or the learning product that matters? If product, why not teach to the test? If process, why test at all?
We also need to be wary of the presumption that any official curriculum directly affects learning outcomes. As we learn in The School as an Organization, this reflects a simplistic systems management model of the school. But this assumption has worked to shape curriculum for a long time.
We see that the curriculum which, at first glance, looks so standard actually lacks uniformity and is the source of much educational controversy. And the nature of that controversy is greatly illuminated when the concerns and choices underlying it are brought to the surface.
What should be taught? The Fundamental Question
To get an idea of the breadth of choices we face, let's look at the following categories of possible curriculum items. In going over these categories, ask yourself why the different items are where they are. By what process did they end up in one place rather than another?
What's the Situation? An Overwhelming Variety
There are many things that could be taught but only so much time, energy and money to teach them. How can we work at a consensus on what should be taught?
This question refers us to what many consider the basis of curricular choice, i.e. goals. Goals can help us restrict our choices, so it seems reasonable to hope that whatever curriculum develops, it would be a means to specific ends.
Public, Perceived and Preferred Goals
In A Place Called School John Goodlad makes an intensive study of existing school goals. He identifies four kinds found in documents from different sources. (Goodlad, pp. 50-56 does not address the issue as to what kind of consensus exists to support the implementation of these goals ) These goals (which we will call public goals because they tend to end up formulated in public documents) could each be a source of elements in the school curriculum. They include:
Goals can help us restrict our choices. What we find, however, is that there is a substantial difference between the mix of goals that students, teachers and parents perceive in their schools and the mix of goals each would prefer. In general, Goodlad study found that perceived intellectual goals far exceed preferences; whereas, perceived personal goals do not meet preferred levels. (Goodlad, pp. 62-69)
Why is it that the perceived goals in Goodlad's study do not express the preferences, not even in some consensual way, of the major stakeholders? The obvious answer is that the people we want to consider to be the primary stakeholders, the students, parents and teachers, are not the powerholders in the process of formulating public goals for the schools.
Organizational Structure and Goal Incongruity
Even when we get all of this sorted out there is still the matter of curricular implementation within the school organization. We have to translate our goals into tasks backed up by necessary resources. Failure to do this means that school outcomes will not match goals.
Elsewhere we see that in all organizations discrepancies frequently arise between goals and outcomes. You will recall that these can be explained in a variety of ways, depending on the implementation model of the school invoked:
We can also look to the basic organizational conflicts. Each has a curricular counterpart.. Chart 17.1 recasts these conflicts with curriculum relevant examples.
Whom Does It Concern? Stakeholders in the Curriculum
Even if goals are matched to curriculum, the concerns of the stakeholders turn out to be a major determinant of what is taught. Let's look at this more closely. In the sections to follow we will identify groups of stakeholders and look to see what kinds of concerns motivate them to lay claim to the curriculum.
What are the concerns of the different stakeholders? We can expect to find a variety of concerns for each stakeholder group. We can also expect that there will be conflicts among those things desired that may not be perceived by those who desire them.
In the attempt to reconcile personal and social interests within groups, as well as conflicts among groups, we will discover the dynamics of the formation of the curriculum. Curriculum is conceived, nurtured and comes to maturity in a conflictual environment.
How Do They Perceive It? The Structure of Knowledge
A multiplicity of perspectives is important when we recognize intellectual traditions as socially constructed and containing interest. Each provides a vantage point for considering the complexities of our human conditions. When practiced well, the different intellectual paradigms can enable us to 'see' and think about various elements of our social world in ways that can increase our understanding of the whole.Even if we are utterly clear on the goals the curriculum is to serve, there is still the question of how to organize it. What criteria should be utilized to give it structure? The interests of certain stakeholders in competition with others will be supported or undercut depending upon the criteria we use.
-- Thomas S. Popkewitz, "Knowledge and Interest in Curriculum Studies" in Thomas S. Popkewitz (ed.) Critical Studies in Teacher Education (London: The Falmer Press, 1987) p. 352.
There is a longstanding debate whether knowledge is structured by a unique relationship to "reality" or whether knowledge is "socially constructed." (Cf. Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luckmann The Social Construction of Reality Garden City: Anchor Books, 1967) This argument is whether there is an "objective" organization of the facts of the world, or whether that organization depends upon the interests of the organizers. We will look at that debate more closely later, but for now we will adopt the social constructionist view.
The social-constructionist view is, for our purposes, the more useful because it helps us identify potential stakeholders. What the other side offers, i.e. that the structure of knowledge is independent of human interests, does not advance this objective. Besides, the claim to "real knowledge" is made by many competing groups. We would have to deal with questions of consensus and authority which, at this point in the argument, only distract.
What is knowledge? How can we distinguish facts from belief, opinion or falsehood? These, too, are questions we will have to put off until later, because they involve us in controversies over authority. For our purposes we will assume that there is consensus that accepts something as knowledge even if only vaguely expressed at a sloganistic level. For example there is probably a broad consensus that Earth has a moon. But whether that moon is thought to be a natural satellite of earth, a supernatural being, or an object hanging from the dome of the sky would depend upon whom we have questioned about its nature. To avoid such complications for the moment, our concern here will be only with how "facts" are thought to be best organized.
We can organize our instructional program in at least four different ways. The structure of curriculum can be:
Many people believe that there is a way of organizing knowledge that is independent of human interests. B. Othaniel Smith writes
...teaching will be more effective if it incorporates the ways the elements of knowledge are related logically.The belief that there are "basic skills" rests on belief about logical structure. "Back-to-Basics" is a reform movement that only makes sense if there is a general consensus about the logical relations among elements in the curriculum. For example, many people believe you have to learn how to add before you can learn how to multiply. This just isn't so. (But see Gerald W. Bracey, "Advocates of Basic Skills 'Know What Ain't So'". Education Week April 5, 1989 p.32.) The way items relate is a matter that still requires a lot of investigation.
-----B.O.Smith "Introduction" to Education and the Structure of Knowledge Fifth Annual Phi Delta Kappa Symposium on Educational Research. (Chicago: Rand McNally, 1964) p. 3.
Are there unique elements of knowledge? And are logical relations unique? Mathematicians, logicians and philosophers are far from agreed on these questions. ( Cf. Stephen Koerner, The Philosophy of Mathematics. An Introduction New York: Harper and Row, 1960.) esp. 98-118.)
Mathematics is perhaps most familiar to us as a logically structured body of knowledge. In fact, geometry is taught to introduce students to a particular traditional approach to reasoning. One of the things that makes mathematics hard for many people is that they do not learn in the manner that mathematics is often taught. In fact, mathematicians do not do mathematics the way it is taught. They rely heavily on intuition, big jumps from hypothesis to hypothesis and "backward" reasoning, reconstructing proofs from premises and conclusion. ( See George Polya "How to Solve it." pp.1980?1992 in James R. Newman [ed.] The World of Mathematics, Vol.III New York: Simon and Schuster, 1956)) And even intuition is problematic. Mathematician Hans Hahn comments,
...it is not true, as Kant urged, that intuition is a pure a priori means of knowledge, but rather that it is a force of habit rooted in psychological inertia. (Hans Hahn, "The Crisis in Intuition" p. 1976 in Newman.)What Hahn is saying is that mathematics, generally viewed as the most logical and disinterested of disciplines, is founded on habit and custom rather than on some "logic" that is part of the very essence of mathematical knowledge.
Even more important for our considerations, it has been proven to the satisfaction of mathematicians that mathematical knowledge cannot be organized on the logical model. There is no unique way to find uniquely simplest mathematical elements and build them up consistently so that more complex and interesting mathematical statements can be shown to be derived from them. (See Ernest Nagel and James R. Newman, "Goedel's Proof" in Newman, pp. 1668-1695.)
Why then is mathematics usually taught as though logical structure were the most important part of it? And why do people in other disciplines attempt to mimic mathematics in its logical form? For basically two reasons. First, it is ancient and elegant; it appeals to people brought up in certain traditions. Second, many people believe that it is pedagogically efficient to use some logical organization in subject matter. But what is "logical" may be very much a matter of culture or tradition. (Piagetian theory postulates an invariant universal human logical development. It does not meet the empirical test. See Patricia Teague Ashton, "Cross-Cultural Piagetian Research: An experimental perspective" Harvard Educational Review. 45. 4. [Nov.1975] pp.475-506. )
One social consequence of the logical organization of the curriculum is that subject matter is used to measure people. "Logical organization" has been used as a social sorting device to identify "highly intelligent" people from "less intelligent" people. Less "logical" has meant less "intelligent" therefore less "deserving" of the benefits of school and society. (Cf. Clarence J. Karier, "Testing for Order and Control in the Corporate Liberal State" Educational Theory. 22, Spring 1972 pp.154-180.)
The stakeholders whose claims on the curriculum are best served by the logical organization of subject matter tend to be university professors of all kinds, since they are recognized as most expert in the field. More specifically, professors involved in disciplines where measurement or logic is a major concern, e.g. the sciences, certain kinds of psychology, mathematics, philosophy. It is primarily the belief that logical organization is necessarily pedagogically relevant that lends credibility to the pronouncements of representatives from these fields on the school curriculum.
Once we admit that pedagogical structure may be different from logical structure we complicate things enormously. Teaching becomes an enterprise of discovery. How kids do learn takes precedence over ideas about how they should learn. The stakeholders whose interests are seen as central tend to be those most directly concerned with the schooling process: teachers, researchers, building administrators, parents and students. Formal degrees alone do not guarantee expertise in schooling and pedagogy.
Smith also relates pedagogy to cognitive structures:
...what is learned will be retained longer if it is tied into a meaningful cognitive structure.Pedagogical structure is that organization imposed on curriculum according to some beliefs about how people learn. As we learned in a previous chapter, the ancient Greeks believed reading was best learned by memorizing combinations of letter sounds. All simple combinations of letters had to be memorized forwards and backwards. Thus it took years for students to learn to read a simple sentence in school. (See Robert M.W. Travers, "Unresolved Issues in Defining Educational Goals" Educational Theory Winter 1987 Vol. 37, No. 1. p.30) What this historical example shows is that students do not necessarily learn more efficiently by having things broken down into small pieces.
Didaxis was the name of the Greek method of presentation, memorization and recitation. It was an ancient method supported with a good deal of physical punishment. Socrates argued that certain things are known which are not acquired through didaxis. His elicitation from the slave boy of the construction of the doubled square in the Meno masterfully demonstrates this point. The Socratic dialogue became the ideal pedagogy. So it came to be that the Platonic tradition identified pedagogical organization with logical organization. (See Joseph J. Schwab, "Problems, Topics and Issues" Chapter 1 in B. O. Smith) It is still a very strong belief despite the fact that mathematics, that most "logical" of disciplines, can no longer be casually invoked as an ideal of logical organization.
Modern linguistics, for example, has developed varieties of logical structures called "phrase grammar" and "generative grammar." These have been investigated with an eye to structuring the teaching of reading and writing in the schools. Traditional grammar is relatively unstructured, but is accorded ceremonial respect as an unchanging standard. Generative grammar sees language as a systematic whole. It starts with basic elements, "kernel sentences" and attempts to develop rules which combines them into more complex structures in a consistent way. (See Roderick A. Jacobs and Peter S. Rosenbaum English Transformational Grammar Waltham, MA: Blaisdell, 1968) Generative grammar is logical in its structure. But it fails in its program to provide a comprehensive logical structure for language. (See Douglas Frank Stalker, Deep Structure Phila.:Philosophical Monographs, 1976)
An even newer approach conceives of language as an inconsistent complex of speech activities for "negotiating meaning" and sees so-called standards as political impositions of powerful groups' own communication preferences. (See Linda M. Phillips and Laurence Walker, "Three Views of Language and Their Influence on Instruction in Reading and Writing" Educational Theory Vol.37, No.2, p.135-144.) Although modern linguists have departed from the tradition, we see that the original impulse in language studies was to identify pedagogical organization with logical organization: learning language meant learning grammar.
Curriculum can be structured along disciplinary lines. Academic disciplines are social organizations. They consist of people who have been taught in a certain tradition and who recognize certain items of knowledge and approaches to them as "belonging to their discipline." Disciplines put limits on inquiry. Facts discovered in a one discipline may be ignored in pursuing investigation in another.
The primary source of disciplinary divisions comes through the universities. By setting college entrance requirements, and by appealing to the concerns of secondary teachers for professional identity, university personnel have the power to determine much of the curricular organization of the secondary schools. (See Ivor Goodson, School Subjects and Curriculum Change Phila.: Falmer Press, 1987) esp.pp.24-37.)
Disciplinary structure manifests itself as subject matter at the secondary and primary levels.of schooling. History, English, Mathematics, Science, etc. are ways of organizing knowledge that may have little to do with logic or pedagogy. But they have a lot to do with the recognition and continuance of specialist roles, certificates and degrees at all levels of schooling. (See Bob Moon, The 'New Maths' Curriculum Controversy. An International Story. Phila.: Falmer Press, 1986 Especially pp. 312-233, "The Power of the Lobby.")
The authors of this book have felt themselves pulled about by logical, pedagogical and disciplinary concerns. Because we have been socialized into a certain style of presentation we feel a strong compulsion to set out the logical structure of the topics encountered in our inquiry. Furthermore, we feel disciplinary commitments to cover topics in a certain way to a certain depth of analysis. And yet, having taught for many years, we know that from a pedagogical perspective, some of what we feel compelled to write may turn out to be embellishment that only a few students may appreciate. Our predicament is not unique. Every thoughtful teacher must face it.
Identifying disciplinary structure as being necessarily pedagogically relevant biases the competition among various stakeholders in favor of the university. It is here that disciplinary structures are most developed. (See J. Hullett, "Which Structure?" Educational Theory, 24,1, Winter 1974 pp.68-72) So strong is the disciplinary bias that teacher lesson planning is invariably done in terms of content rather than objectives. (See Richard Kindsvatter, William Wilen and Margaret Ishler, The Dynamics of Effective Teaching New York: Longman, 1988. p.56.)
Secondly, disciplinary divisions protect against "intruders" who don't share the relevant credentials. Pedagogical criticism is only taken seriously from one's own disciplinary peers. Disciplinary organization also protects against that perception that has long been part of teacher folklore: pedagogical skill varies inversely with level taught.
They way we organize schools often acts to determine curriculum. Institutional structure is revealed in the organization of knowledge as curricula, grade-levels, courses, units of study, texts, chapters and the like. One way of understanding curriculum is that it is an institutional construct. No experienced teacher, for his or her own purposes, needs a formal curriculum. But in the context of schooling, where coordination and control become concerns, curriculum documents are used to give the appearance of order.
In large school systems bureaucratic conveniences become pedagogical necessities. To monitor classroom activities, teachers are often required to make formulaic lesson plans, to pace their teaching in accord with a standard curriculum, to avoid deviating from such a curriculum and to use textbooks picked out by committee. Their teaching must be timed to bells, and adjusted to interruptions from the public address system. Students must be evaluated on a preset schedule. Most teachers do not believe such administrative organization helps their pedagogy. It is seldom suggested too loudly, however, that it has a definitely negative effect on learning.
There are stakeholders in the schooling process whose credibility depends most on the belief that the administrative organization of knowledge is pedagogically efficient ? or, at least, not harmful. They are those people who benefit from the traditional role structure of school administration, principals, upper administrators, school boards, and state boards of education.
It is important to emphasize that the the four ways of organizing the curriculum, logical, pedagogical, disciplinary and institutional, are not necessarily related. To structure knowledge one way does not insure that it will be structured according to another. Logic, learnability, tradition and administrative convenience may have nothing to do with one another. But assumptions that they are logically related supports the predominance of one group of stakeholders in the schooling enterprise over others.
Different groups of stakeholders are accorded more or less credibility depending upon the assumed relations between the logical, pedagogical, disciplinary and institutional organization of the curriculum. If we assume that logical and disciplinary organization is the most pedagogically effective way to structure the curriculum, we concede ultimate authority over the curriculum to university professors. If we assume that institutional organization is pedagogically most effective, we concede ultimate authority to administrators. However, if we hold back from such assumptions and allow that a pedagogically effective structure may be different from either the logical, disciplinary or institutional structure of the curriculum, we retain ultimate authority for those who work on site in the schools. These are building staff, researchers and even parents and students. Figure 17.4 summarizes this.
We restrict our considerations to whether pedagogical structure is thought to be necessarily related to logical structure, disciplinary structure or institutional structure. We want to reiterate, however, that depending whether we accept or reject the relation, different groups or programs are supported in their claims to a legitimate stake in the schooling process.
For example. it is to the advantage of university professors in certain disciplines, particularly the Humanities, to insist that the logical or disciplinary organization of subject matter is the pedagogically relevant one. (See figure 17.4) This establishes the relevance of their credentials over those of practitioners in secondary and primary education. Best-selling professorial denunciations of student "ignorance," so much in the news as of this writing, are not the dispassionate judgments of disinterested bystanders. Their authors are important stakeholders in the curriculum debate. (See, also, Revisiting Mastery Curriculum.)
As items are introduced and then become permanent subject matter in the curriculum, the dominant stakeholders change. D. Layton proposes that curricular items go through the following stages of evolution:
Why Does It Concern Them? Curricular Aims
Our original question, "What should be taught?" yielded us the situation that there are many, many possible things that could be taught, yet insufficient time and resources to do them all; a selection had to be made.
We then looked to identify stakeholders and found that the actual curriculum in some U.S. schools did not agree with what students, parents and teachers wanted. This led us to look elsewhere for stakeholders who might also be powerholders. We found other stakeholders. Their claims on the curriculum depended upon how we considered knowledge should be organized: logically, pedagogically, by discipline or for organizational convenience.
We will now look at another dimension of curriculum. What general purposes or functions does a curricular item support. Is music taught in the schools because it has substantial value? Or are its benefits symbolic? What about geometry; or French? We will see that the hodgepodge of subject matters that constitutes the curriculum of today's school does have a rational basis.
Status, Vocation and Social Control Interests
Stakeholders in the curriculum not only have different notions of how knowledge should be organized, but they value different kinds of schooling outcomes. The traditionally hoped-for products of schooling such as character, skill and citizenship represent different kinds of curricular interest. We will look at these interests in a more generalized form.
The differences among the main types of educational structures in the modern world can be explained by differences among lineups of contending interests.
----Randall Collins, "Some Comparative Principles of Educational Stratification" Harvard Educational Review 47,1 1977 pp.1-27.
Status is a divisible benefit: some may have a certain degree of it; others, not. Moreover, it is a positional benefit: if some have more, others necessarily have less. (Cf. Fred Hirsch, The Social Limits to Growth Cambridge: Harvard U. Press, 1976. pp.27-31) For these reasons questions of status inevitably raise questions of equity.
Randall Collins argues that the curriculum of the modern comprehensive high school is a mix of three historical interests: status, vocation, and social (primarily bureaucratic) control. We have used these distinctions earlier in the book. Now we will see that they can be used to understand curriculum.
The items of a status curriculum provide what we have called in this book symbolic benefits. They support and enhance the formal culture of a group. If we were to ask why such an item is studied, the likely answer would be "Because to be educated, one has to know something about it." Other answers might be that it is enlightening, develops the mind, supports morality, or strengthens character or democracy. Examples might be religious education of all kinds, ethnic studies, English grammar, literature, higher mathematics, history, art, music, high school sciences. In short, anything seen as having intrinsic value, apart from its being required to pursue an occupation.
Status interests can be broken into two subgroups which are important for distinguishing among actual curriculum proposals. Status interests can be concerned with group status or individual status, as are curricula which pursue developmental goals such as character, self-realization, self-esteem, self-concept, independence, and critical thinking. These are not pursued solely or primarily for their economic promise, but because they are thought to turn out a better human being.
Status interests can be traditional or reconstructionist. That is, they can aim at social distinctions traditionally found in society, or they can pursue the revitalization of lost values or the promotion of new ones. Creationism is a traditionalist movement with a curricular agenda for the schools. Peace curricula and World Government curricula promoted by different organizations, e.g. The Society of Friends, are examples of reconstructionist status concerns.
The most ancient purpose of schooling was vocational, aimed at transmitting particular skills, primarily literacy. Collins sees such interests as the second determinant in the modern curriculum.
An extremely important point to keep in mind is this: there need be no scientifically recognized causal relationship between what is required for vocational purposes and the subject matter studied. Christopher J. Hurn comments:
A large part of the explanation for the well-known correlation between educational qualifications and occupational status should be that such educational qualifications reflect the possession of cognitive skills necessary or useful for effect role performance. But the evidence that we have suggests that it is educational credentials rather than cognitive skills that predict future status and earnings. We know that employers prefer to employ college graduates, but there is no solid evidence that they make great efforts to hire people with the highest levels of cognitive skills. Nor is there evidence that once on the job those who have the highest skills perform better than those with lower skills.If this is true, it would seem that concerns that some students do not have sufficient skills is mistaken. Beyond a certain basic level, cognitive skills are not crucial. What higher education supplies in addition is cultural background . Perhaps this is the real issue.
--- C. J. Hurn The Limits and Possibilities of Schooling. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1978. p. 39
Social Control Interests
Collins sees the curriculum as shaped by the bureaucratic structure of the modern school. Administrational convenience determines much of the process of modern schooling, often in conflict with other values. Here we broaden Collins' concept somewhat to recognize that every stakeholder has a social control interest.
There are two kinds of social control interests: domination interests and market control interests. What items in the curriculum support domination interests? Mass calisthenics in gym class. School assemblies and the rites associated with them. Tests and examinations and the training preparatory to their administration. Late bells and division of the day into class periods. Standing in line and raising one's hand. Getting a note to go to the nurse or the bathroom. All of these practices restrict individual decision on items often of a very personal nature. These restrictions may be justified, for example, on grounds of immaturity or crowding, but often the practices outlive their rationales.
Market control interests are more indirect. The very division of knowledge into disciplines is supported by them. Their purpose is to restrict schooling benefits in certain traditional ways. We will look at them more closely below when we consider knowledge as a commodity.
The three kinds of interest, status, vocational and social control do not divide curricular items into mutually exclusive classes. One and the same item may support status, vocational and social control interests. In fact, we might define the "strength" of an item in the curriculum relative to another item depending upon the degree to which it satisfies all three interests. Items that are strong in this way are supported by resources. Teachers who teach them risk fewer layoffs and less controversy about their subject matter (although specific items may be controversial.) We might also expect that symbolic items will be weaker than substantial items except as there are strong professional or community groups who support them and who can affect the budgeting process.
Knowledge as a Commodity
Preparing for the SAT's (Scholastic Aptitude Tests) is big business. One in nine U.S. high school students pays for private coaching while an estimated 47% of high schools offer some kind of SAT preparation class. (Mark Walsh, "1 in 9 Said To Use Private Coaching For S.A.T." Education Week October 12, 1988. p.6.) What is this market? What is being offered?
In order to be sold, knowledge has to be substantially transformed in ways that violate traditional notions of what knowledge is and how it benefits a community. To be an item of exchange, knowledge must be turned into a commodity, like gold, wheat, soybeans, cocoa, pig bellies and concentrated frozen orange juice. What is knowledge and how must it be transformed?
If I know something and tell you, I do not know it less. Indeed, knowledge increases the more it is given away. Knowledge, valued intrinsically, is an absolute benefit. On the other hand, if I have a commodity and give you some, I have less. A commodity is divisible and consumable. It is a positional benefit.
How can we change knowledge into a commodity.? By valuing it not for itself, intrinsically, but extrinsically, as an instrument to something else. Instrumentally valued knowledge can be made into a commodity through secrecy or monopoly. Students do not pay for SAT preparation courses because they value the knowledge they get from them intrinsically.
People are willing to pay for intrinsically valued knowledge. Traditionally, however, the clergy and the university and elite secondary schools have been the only groups to receive that kind of support.
Schools historically have always taught a mixture of intrinsically valued and extrinsically valued knowledge. But a prolonged emphasis on knowledge as substantial, a commodity, undercuts their esteem and greatly affects the curriculum, also.
Remember, the important thing about SAT preparation is that it is believed to provide its buyers with a positional benefit, one that gives them advantage over someone who lacks it. Knowledge transformed from an absolute benefit into an instrument of positional benefits becomes much like wealth. And it suffers from many of the same economic illnesses that wealth can.
The first thing to do in selling knowledge is to peg it to a medium of exchange. It must be made divisible and transferrable. Knowledge does not mark one's forehead to indicate its presence. Rather, certificates must be provided which serve to guarantee that knowledge. But guarantee is a matter of trust and belief so certificates are only as good as the esteem their issuer is held in. Diplomas from a new school are seen as inferior to those of an established school, independently of any investigation of the actual knowledge of its graduates.
The institutionalization process, however, works to insure esteem independently of any verification of actual knowledge. So we have a market for standardized tests. The College Boards, for example, serve the demand for a widely accepted unit of comparison. (We will see that testing itself is subject to institutionalization.)
The second thing to do is to restrict access to the process culminating in a diploma. This is normally done through curriculum prerequisites. If knowledge were the only thing at issue, then university degrees and professional certificates might be gotten solely by test, without attendance requirements. That no one can practice surgery on the basis of tests alone indicates something important. Tests results are not trusted to catch everything important in the training toward a diploma. Also, important stakeholders in the process control it for considerations other than efficiency. Their livelihoods or their disciplines may be at stake.
Testing has its limits. Certification processes may cause inefficiencies. However, we should not imagine that opening up a practice to anyone who claims to be a practitioner, a sort-of "free-market" approach would necessarily avoid the possible abuses of either inadequate testing, or self-serving school organizations. Would the costs and benefits of a "free-market" system stack up better against the present one?
The Systemics of Commodification
A very interesting thing happens when knowledge becomes a commodity. The curriculum itself suffers modification. Let's see how.
Suppose schools were so effective in teaching traditional academics that every child graduated with a high degree of competence. Can you imagine what an impact this would have on society? What would be the costs and benefits of such a happening? For whom? In this section,we consider such effects. We will be looking at some reasonable conjectures about the consequences of an overly successful system of schooling, particular if that knowledge has been transformed into a commodity which pursues other positional goods,i.e. wealth and status. Thomas Green proposes wider effects that any system of schooling will have under these circumstances
The Law of Zero-Correlation
(T F. Green Predicting the Behavior of the Educational System Syracuse: Syracuse U. Press, 1980)
If a high school diploma is pursued so it gets you a better job because employers prefer to hire people with such diplomas, then the following things can be reasonably concluded:
This means that the goal of trying to bring all students to the point of getting a high school diploma undercuts the instrumental value of that diploma. Equity conflicts with efficiency.
Shifting Costs and Benefits
The effect of this conflict, says Green, is that the benefits and costs of a high school diploma change. At first to offset the general devaluation of diplomas, the curriculum becomes tracked. No longer are students given a single general diploma. Rather, different kinds of diplomas will be given, e.g. academic, vocational, etc. And the value of some kinds of diploma will be maintained at the cost of devaluing another, depending upon the power of the stakeholders involved. Thus, academic diplomas may be held in higher esteem than general, or vocational diplomas.
Transformation of Costs
Secondly, the costs to the individual of not getting a diploma will change. In 1910 about 20% of the appropriate age-level students got a high school diploma. But there were plenty of opportunities for employment for non-graduates. Not having a diploma could be seen as a rational choice to investing one's time and energies in earning money and gaining on-the-job experience, rather than continuing in school and pursuing future possibilities. Besides, economic pressures often forced the choice.
As more students got diplomas -- in the 1950's it was over 60% -- non-graduation became a problem. Not having a diploma became an increasing liability. Figure 17.4 illustrates this.
At this point "dropouts" were discovered. But there had always been dropouts. Why had the circumstances changed? Because society had changed. The perception now was that leaving school indicated a deficiency, rather than a rational choice. In addition, because there were more high school graduates, employers could raise their requirements for educational level attained. (The dropout picture is complicated by the fact that many students return or complete an equivalency. See "High school dropouts who later complete their education" The Condition of Education Washington, D.C.: Center for Education Statistics, 1987 pp. 28-29.)
The upshot is that the motivation to stay in school changed. Now, one stayed in school to avoid the costs of being identified as a dropout. The instrumental utility of a diploma has become defensive utility. It protected you against the consequences of being labeled a dropout; but it still has lost its original instrumental value in obtaining more of the substance of society. Figure 17.5 illustrates defensive utility (value).
The effect on the curriculum was that special programs for identifying potential dropouts were developed. Career Education, for example, was conceived as a curriculum focus. (See W. Norton Grubb and Marvin Lazerson "Rally 'Round the Workplace: Continuities and Fallacies in Career Education" Harvard Educational Review Vol.45, No.4 November 1975. pp.451-474.) The most recent of such programs are for "At-Risk" students. Whether such innovations can offset the dynamics of commodification is another question.
The second effect on the curriculum was that the benefits of a diploma shifted from getting a good job, to going on to college. This transformed disciplines that were originally born of status interests into, in effect, vocational ones. Students who may have never taken certain courses were now confronted by teachers unprepared to meet their special needs. This generated special curricula and laid the foundation for the identification of "special needs."
The Law of Last Entry
In an expanding school system there will be groups which enter after others. Green's insight is that the benefits of the system will be enjoyed by the early-comers. Those entering last, generally of lesser status in society, will be faced with a market glutted with diplomas. Early entrants to the U.S. educational system -- up to 1950 -- found that a high school diploma helped and dropping out did not severely handicap one in the economic race. Within the last forty years, however, the high school diploma has become a floor, so to speak, and advantages must be pursued with higher degrees. Green's conclusion is that diplomas must inevitably suffer deflation so long as they are valued only instrumentally and we pursue a public policy of equal educational opportunity. Since such a policy is only just, Green suggests that the diploma race be abandoned. He remarks,
As a matter of political choice and public policy, perhaps it is time to consider whether it is easier, more humane, and more desirable to make the world safe for illiterates than to make the whole world literate.-- "Weighing the Justice of Inequality" Change 12, 5, July/August 1980 pp. 26-32.What Do They Propose? Varieties of Curriculum
There are literally thousands upon thousands of curriculum proposals. But with the help of some of the distinctions we have developed throughout the book, we can provide a framework for dealing with them in an efficient way.
The Curriculum of the Temple
...the ideal republic is the republic of learning. It is the utopia by which actual political republics are measured. The goal which we started with the Athenians twenty-five centuries ago is an unlimited republic of learning and a world-wide political republic supporting each other.Character and community is the educational focus of the curriculum of the Temple. Clearly, the concerns of the school as Temple are status concerns. It is a commitment to values in and of themselves, uncompromised wherever possible with practical necessities. Hutchins finds those values in what he perceives as an unbroken tradition from ancient Greece to modern America. He is certainly not concerned with any issues of consensus about those values.
--Robert M. Hutchins The Basis of Education" reprinted in James Wm. Noll Taking Sides. Clashing Views on Controversial Educational Issues. (Guilford, CN: Dushkin, 1987) p.26
What is interesting is that different cultures at different times have chosen different items of knowledge to support their status interests. We think of the liberal arts as serving status concerns, and the dons at Cambridge University during the nineteenth century deliberately refused to recognize any subject as appropriate for university study that could be put to use in commerce and industry. (S. Rothblatt, The Revolution of the Dons London: Faber and Faber, 1969 cited in Goodson, p.8) But the rhetoric, logic and grammar they undoubtedly revered were once part of the vocational training for positions in the medieval Christian Church. Similarly, calligraphy strikes us as primarily a status pursuit, but it was required preparation for the civil service of the Chinese emperor.
Fixed and Emerging Interests
The curriculum of the Temple is founded on traditions and preformed goals. On the other hand, certain processes may be thought to be of intrinsic value and generate new goals for the schools. Eisner.comments:
I believe that it is perfectly appropriate for teachers and others involved in curriculum development to plan activities that have no explicit or precise objectives. In an age of accountability, this sounds like heresy. Yet surely there must be room in school for activities that promise to be fruitful, even though the teacher may not be able to say what specifically the students will learn or experience. Parents do this all the time. The trip to the zoo, weekends spent camping in the woods, the bicycle ride after dinner; no specific objectives or problems are posed prior to setting out on such activities, yet we feel that they will be enjoyable and that some "good" will come from them.It is the Temple, rather than the Factory or Town Meeting that permits such undirected experimenting. This is because the Factory tends to be too cost-conscious and often overestimates the risks of failure. In the Temple, the character and concern of the teachers guarantee that the mere participation in the activity will be of value. In the Town Meeting generating new values threatens the old if only by dissipating energies focussed for the conflict. Novel ideas create new competitors.
-- Elliot W. Eisner, The Educational Imagination. On the design and evaluation of school programs. New York: Macmillan, 1979
Metaphoric precision is the central vehicle for revealing the qualitative aspects of life. -----Elliot Eisner, p. 200How does one write curriculum for the Temple? Assuming certain basic values, how can we proceed with the selection? The technique is primarily exegetical. (Deal and Wiske on research as Scripture, p.459.) This means that items are chosen on the basis of an interpretation of what the goal "means". Thus, if "Basic Knowledge" is the goal pursued, choices for the curriculum will be explained as being "Basic Knowledge". This is a matter of persuasion and consensus building. Robert M. Travers calls this approach to curriculum theory, the "literary" approach. He comments
...a major and overwhelming advantage of the literary approach is that with literary talent, one can make educational goals attractive, and they must be attractive if they are to appeal to all those involved in achieving them....They need to be attractive for very much the same reason that political goals do. Goals should motivate, and appealing goals have energizing properties. (Travers, p.37)Unlike the Factory, the Temple treats casually the determination of causation from curricular item to goal. So if someone can convince the proponents of Basic Knowledge that he or she knows "what Basic Knowledge is" and that Sex Education is Basic Knowledge, then Sex Education -- whatever that means -- will be part of the Basic Knowledge curriculum. (In reality, this persuasive process will be supported with Factory-like claims for causal effectiveness. We will look at that below.)
The problem with the exegetical approach is that mere expressions of hope often serve as justifications for curricular choices. The assumption is made that if the ends can be stated, the means are made somehow more determinate. (Cf. Edward G. Rozycki, "Hope as Educational Theory: Rejoinder to Wain" Educational Theory, Spring 1989. Vol.39, No. 2. pp.163-165) So schools announce a Substance Abuse Education Curriculum and many assume (hope?) that a significant step has been taken to control drugs. But does a school program prevent distribution? Does it cut off the sources of supply? Does it even limit demand? A critical thinker may well find fault with the program on such technical grounds. But in trying to criticize the means, any objections might be taken as an attack on the ends. Such are the risks run by the thoughtful educator.
The Factory Curriculum
The fact that many educators now equate "goals" with "intended student outcomes" is to the credit of the behaviorists, particularly the advocates of programmed instruction. They have brought about a small reform in teaching by emphasizing those specific classroom acts and work exercises which contribute to the refinement of student responses.Science sells. It has been selling curriculum since about 1913 when Franklin Bobbitt adopted "science" as the slogan for restructuring the curriculum. Advertising has long taken advantage of the word. It implies objectivity, lack of ulterior purpose, trustworthiness. Downplayed are the special attributes of real science: self-criticism, intellectual rigor, standards of evaluation not distorted for personal ends. When we learn that "more doctors use Dristan", we may jump to the conclusion that the recommendation is based on careful professional judgment. In fact, it may be that Dristan samples have recently been sent out to doctors so that more now have Dristan in their possession than before. Assuming they give the samples away, the claim is literally true. But its implications are false.
-- Robert E. Stake, "The Countenance of Educational Evaluation" in Taylor and Cowley, p.97
The "Science" of Curriculum and the School as Factory are intimately related. In fact, a new group of stakeholders lays claim to the curriculum under the image of the school as Factory. They are the test-makers, the Scientific Curriculum Theorists and certain groups of academic psychologists, i.e. those who see themselves in the tradition of, e.g. Thorndike, Terman, and Skinner, generally called Behaviorist.
Some theorists suggest that a major reason academic psychology has developed into a discipline has been to maintain a claim in the name of science.on the primary and secondary curriculum in the face of a weakened influence of the Humanities. (See Thomas S. Popkewitz, "The Formation of School Subjects and the Political Context of Schooling" in Thomas S. Popkewitz, (ed.) The Formation of the School Subjects (Phila.: Falmer, 1987) pp.15-18. Also, Steven Selden, "Curricular Metaphors: From Scientism to Symbolism" Educational Theory, Vol.25, Number 3, Summer 1975. pp.243-262. Also, see Stephen Jay Gould, "The Hereditarian Theory of IQ" Chapter 5 in Stephen Jay Gould The Mismeasure of Man New York: Norton, 1981. pp.146-233. Also Edward G. Rozycki, "Science and Education" Chapter 5 in Edward G. Rozycki Human Behavior: Measurement and Cause. Can there be a science of education? Ed.D. Dissertation. Temple U. 1974. Ann Arbor, MI: Xerox University Microfilms, 1974 pp.151-167)
Pioneering educational psychologist Edward Thorndike, by his own admission incompetent in simple algebra, did not shrink from admonishing educators with the omniscient claim that "whatever exists at all, exists in some amount.". (In Geraldine M.Joncich (ed.) Psychology and the Science of Education: Selected Writings of Edward L. Thorndike New York: Teachers' College Press, Columbia, 1962 p.151.)
Bobbitt saw the school in terms of a straightforward systems management model, although he softened his stance late in his life. Later in this tradition, B.F. Skinner, claiming to be able to discern the "natural lines of fracture" in the world divided this world up into reinforcing and non-reinforcing stimuli to be used in "programming" learning. (B.F. Skinner, "The Genetic Nature of the Concepts of Stimulus and Response" The Journal of General Psychology, 1935, 12, pp.40?65.)
Skinner's formulations became a very popular basis for scientific curriculum making. Yet, Wilbert J. McKeatchie in his 1974 presidential address to the Division of General Psychology of the American Psychological Association reviewed the literature on the application of Skinner's theories and concluded "the research evidence... demonstrates that each point enunciated by Skinner is untrue ? at least in as general a sense as he believed." (W. J. McKeatchie, "The Decline and Fall of the Laws of Learning" Educational Researcher, March 1974. pp.7-10)
McKeatchie (p.10) offers an explanation for the popularity of Skinnerian psychology despite its inadequacy: it is simple, educators are looking for magic and Skinner is, at least, persuasive:
Those who by his approach find that the basic ideas are simple to apply and work often enough to maintain their enthusiasm. This is no small matter. Anyone who can take discouraged, dispirited teachers, mental health aides or prison officials and revive their hope and vigor has done a great deal. Probably no one thing is more important in education than the teacher's enthusiasm and energy.The Factory Model is attractive because it portrays status interests as scientific, it offers efficiency in pursuing vocational interests and it rationalizes social control. But in general and in specific, the Factory still generates major controversy at all levels of schooling.
(See Hugh G. Petrie, "Can Education Find Its Lost Objectives Under the Street Lamp of Behaviorism?" in Ralph A. Smith (ed.) Regaining Educational Leadership New York: Wiley, 1975 pp. 64-74. Also, Edward G. Rozycki, "Rewards, Reinforcers and Voluntary Behavior" Ethics Oct.73 pp. 38-47..."More on Rewards and Reinforcers" Ethics July 74, pp.354-358. ..."Measurability and Educational Concerns" Educational Theory Winter 74, pp.52-60.)
For the Factory the relationship between curricular concerns and choices is simple. The items chosen for curriculum are supposed to produce outcomes that satisfy the concerns. The only justification for selection is causation. In the Factory, curriculum development is supposed to be science. (Herbert M. Kliebard, "The Rise of the Scientific Curriculum and its Aftermath" Curriculum Theory Network 5:1 (1975) pp.27 - 38)
The problem is, goals which are slogans do not become less so just because one is prepared to measure their possible causes. So curriculum developers with an empirical bent invent an intermediate category called objectives . Objectives have measurable, controllable processes which are causally related to them. But an important problem still remains. How are the objectives related to the goals?
The relationship of goals to the objectives is just as dependent upon persuasive, non-causal, argument of the kind found in the Temple. Whether or not certain objectives serve even generally recognized goals is often a matter of great controversy. Good tests may be developed for objectives, but if the objectives are not related to the goals, the tests are pointless. Even worse, the tests, being substantial, may come to stand in for the goals, which are often not. This is a concern which has bothered educators for many years. (See Millie Waterman, "The Risks of Comparing NAEP Results" Education Week, October 12, 1988, p.24)
The Curriculum of the Political Arena (Town Meeting)
The curriculum of the Town Meeting is the result of bargaining. Objectives may or may not be brought up to help persuade someone to accept an item, but in this setting goals are generally non-functional. The fundamental difference between the Town Meeting and the Factory is that in the Town Meeting causation provides just one more argument not necessarily more convincing than "I'll make you a deal." (Recall the quote from Fisher and Ury that Truth is simply one more argument?)
The fundamental difference between the Town Meeting and the Temple is that in the Temple we assume that a consensus exists about what goals mean upon which exegetical arguments could be made. In the Town Meeting no such consensus is assumed to exist. Figure 17.6 illustrates the relation of curricular items to goals for the three expectation models of the school.
To illustrate, the goal we pursue may be to turn out good citizens. (Let us not worry at this point about the consensus we will need and the variations in the consensus on the specifics of this obvious slogan.)
Under the Temple model, someone might argue that knowing American History is part of being a good citizen.
In the Factory, the argument can get complex in two ways:
In the course of developing our discussion on curriculum, we have used the Problem Analysis Questions to guide our inquiry. Two remain to be asked and responded to:
Q6 asks whether the stakeholders can and will do anything to implement their proposals. It brings up the issue of who exactly are the powerholders. We can assume that the curriculum as it exists is a manifestation not only of the efforts of powerholders but of the organizational interactions depicted in elsewhere. (See The School as an Organization and Controlling the School: Institutionalization.)
Q7 asks what the costs and benefits of the changes are. Answering that question would be the enterprise of a whole book in itself. This chapter, indeed, this book is only a beginning step in that undertaking.
Determining the Specifics of Curriculum: summary
1. From a wide variety of possible things to teach, only a relatively few are chosen. These choices do not reflect the interests of primary stakeholders: the students, the parents and the teachers. Thus other stakeholders who are also powerholders must be looked for.
2. The organization of knowledge according to logic, teachability, discipline and administrative interests gives the advantage of credibility to different stakeholders' claims to authority on the curriculum.
3. Outcome concerns about status, vocation and social control exert a formative influence on the curriculum. Treating knowledge as a commodity tends to bring equity and efficiency into conflict.
4. The three images of the school support different curricular choices and different approaches to curriculum theorizing.
1. What are the costs and benefits of a) teaching to the test, b) not testing at all? For whom are these costs and benefits?
2. One popular curricular reform proposes a production model: more subject matter specified in the curriculum yields more informed students. Do you think this model is realistic?
3. In the business world, even simple mathematical calculations are done with the help of machines. Yet, students are still taught ? with greater or less degree of success ? to do these calculations in their heads. Why do you think this is? What are the costs and benefits of keeping calculating skills in the curriculum?
4. Create a scale that goes from 0% to 100% that indicates the probability of use in an adult occupation. Arrange different curricular items along this scale ? you may add to those already mentioned above. What reasons could there be for including low probability items in the curriculum? What reasons could there be for excluding high probability items from the curriculum?
5.In Renaissance Italy bankers used addition tables compute sums on the job. Today addition "facts" are taught in elementary schools. Why? Why not teach calculus in the elementary schools?
6. Some researchers believe that reading problems are mainly caused because we try to get most children to read at too early an age. What are the costs and benefits of early literacy? For whom?
7. Consider the basic curricular conflicts. Are they different for students or parents than they are for teachers?
8. There are two major explanations for consensus:
a) natural congruence of sympathies on means and ends;
b) social conditions exist which make agreement on conflict handling methods seem reasonable to all parties.
Which image of the school would support which explanation? How might either theory affect curricular choice?
9. Edward B. Fiske and Joseph M Michaluk in their book, Best Buys in College Education (New York: Times Books, 1987, p.4) use the following criteria in defining the quality of colleges:
a. entering Freshman SAT scores
b. at least 60% Ph.D. holders on faculty
c. good acceptance rate into graduate school
d. admissions selectivity, i.e. % accepted/% applied.
Additional but minor criteria are faculty interest
in students, quality of library, counseling services, class size,
coherent curriculum and academic opportunities, e.g. study abroad.
How might such criteria affect curriculum at both the high school and college levels? What structures of knowledge do they tend to support?
10. Sort out curricular items and school practices into three classes: those which support status interests, those which support vocational interests, and those which support social control interests.
11. Discuss grade inflation and diploma devaluation in terms of commodification.
12. Find a document that states some learning objectives. What goals do they relate to? How can you explain this relation? Is the relation causal, exegetical or mostly supposition?