“School cannot be a place of pleasure, with all the freedom that would imply. School is a factory, and we need to know which workers are up to snuff. . . .The teachers in charge are the floor bosses, so don’t expect them to praise the virtues of free intellectual development when everything, absolutely everything in the school setting—the classes, grades, exams, scales, levels, orientations, streams—enforces the competitive nature of the institution, itself a model of the workaday world (p. 92).” (Pennac 1994)
In defining Curriculum, I suppose we can spend a great deal of time defining what it is and get absolutely nowhere in solving the problems of today’s public education. As we look at who defines it and what’s important, we must ask the questions, what is their agenda, and philosophically where do they stand when it comes to the role of education and its’ institutions?
Traditionalists would have us believe the rules of grammar, reading, rhetoric, and logic, mathematics, and the greatest books of the Western World are the tools of the trade. Hutchins stated, “Knowledge is truth. The truth is everywhere the same. Hence education should be everywhere the same” p. 66 (Hutchins 1936) The question I have is whose truth? What is true to me in the little comfort zone of my life in suburban America, is not the same for someone who is raised in the inner city. So should my educational process, or my child’s education, be the same as an inner-city child? Often there are cries for equal treatment for all! Yet, can this occur when we aren’t all playing on the same level playing field?
Essentialists, according to Arthur Bestor in The Restoration of Learning (1956), focused on 5 areas of study – 1)command of language; 2)mathematics; 3) science; 4) history; 5) foreign language (p. 48-49) (Bestor 1956). If the sole basis of education is on these five areas then the question then arises, where does the pupils’ interest come into consideration? In the work, What Do 17-Year-Olds Know?, Ravitch and Finn focused on what students didn’t know as revealed by their wrong answers to multiple-choice test items primarily based on recall of factual information (Ravitch 1987). The question again must be asked, are these results an indication of failed curriculum and according to whom? Perennialist and essentialists regard the mind as a vessel to be filled or a muscle to be exercised. Where is the human factor in all of this? It all sounds so mechanical and dry, is it a wonder students get turned off by our schools? I believe Dewey was correct “we get the case of the child vs. the curriculum.” (Dewey 1902)
In taking the more conservative approach of accountability and performance contracting, again we look at factors such as input/output, rational testing, Goals 2000, system analysis, and accountability according to industrial standards and apply them to education. Is this the correct approach? I don’t believe life is so cut and dry. We don’t live in a vacuum. The events of today can adversely affect students. Are we to ask the students in the inner-city areas to ignore events that surround them and continue on with their memorization and regurgitation of material and not concern themselves with those non-essential aspects of education? And besides this, do we even want to follow the model of the military-industrial complex? We need only look at cost overruns and the lateness in the delivery of finished goods to dispel this concept.
As we search for alternatives to this conservative approach some quickly dismiss the ideology coming out of the late sixties and early seventies. Their approach to some of the ideas of the “new academic left” is simplistic and they readily dismiss the radical ideology without much verification. Even some perhaps, not considered conservatives will dispel the ideas of the academic left. Tanner and Tanner in their book, Curriculum Development: Theory and Practice, devote a mere two paragraphs in one chapter to the discussion of the “new academic left.” If the authors truly believe in their definition of curriculum, “that reconstruction of knowledge and experience that enables the learner to grow in exercising intelligent control of subsequent knowledge and experience,” (p. 189) perhaps they should listen to their own words of “In order to avoid drowning in a sea of complexities, humans create systems or ways of analyzing phenomena, but the trouble begins when they take their own fictional constructs and assume that these constructs are true in the larger ecological picture.” (p. 190) (Tanner 1995) Am I saying the “new academic left” was correct in their assumptions of the schools and teachers being accomplices in the perpetuation of the status quo? I’m not sure, but I wouldn’t quickly dismiss their assertions to the role that our educational system plays in keeping things as they are. Besides as Dewey states, “No one can tell another person in any definite way how he should think any more than how he ought to breathe or to have his blood circulate.” (Dewey 1933) When we look at our educational system, what are the parameters from which we work within to educate students? From the first day in the educational process, we are indoctrinated into a society in which we answer to authority (the teacher), taught to conform to certain standards (classroom rules dictated by the teacher and school), and taught to memorize and regurgitate the “correct” answers. Isn’t it any wonder that by the time we have passed through the educational process we are left with the feeling of apathy, powerlessness, and the inability or unwillingness to look deeper into matters that concern our society and the world?
Some have dispelled the writings of Paul Goodman and Ivan Illich and their proposals for abolishing schools. Perhaps Goodman was not correct in his solutions, but do we ignore his criticisms as the ranting of some left-wing anarchist. Goodman wrote:
It is in the schools and from the mass media, rather than at home or from their friends, that the mass of our citizens in all classes learn that life is inevitably routine, depersonalized, venally graded; that it is best to toe the mark and shut up; that there is no place for spontaneity, open sexuality, free spirit. Trained in the schools, they go on to the same quality of jobs, culture, politics. This is education, miseducation, socializing to the national norms, and regimenting to the national ‘needs.’
If Goodman was so far off, why in today’s society do people feel so alienated from their jobs and from each other? Isn’t it simply a fluke? Are we not supposed to question the educational process? Is there no accountability there? Even though Goodman’s six proposals for changing schools, found in Compulsory Miseducation, seem to be considered outrageous by some:
In fact, his suggestions came to be widely adopted, though in piecemeal and diminished form. Some were assimilated into established practice, like taking pupils out into the city itself which expanded from the conventional field trip into a much more comprehensive interaction of the kind Goodman described, initiated by an innovative school superintendent in Philadelphia. Respected mainstream practitioners like Theodore Sizer, in his influential books Horace’s compromise (1984) and Horace’s school (1992), recommended dividing large, impersonal schools into smaller units, each with its own faculty, though he would design a much more academic curriculum than Goodman. Sizer’s plan is now being explored in practice by some 200 members of the Coalition of Essential Schools, formed in 1984.
Perhaps further research on the part of educators would be beneficial in not “throwing the baby out with the bathwater.” If they were to consider a less literal interpretation of those on the left, some of the left’s observations and recommendations would not sound so absurd. I often think back to when I was getting my degree in psychology and people would look at Freud and think all he talked about was sex. However, if you look at Freud from a more figurative perspective, rather than a literal perspective, you would see that Freud spoke of power and control and how “penis envy” and other terminology associated with him related to the male’s dominance of power in our society.
Those attacking the so-called left-wing academia; doesn’t it contradict their constant postulating of a more open approach to the curriculum? Tanner and Tanner, even in their own words admit “…The incessant external pressures on schools to censor certain materials, to avoid controversial issues, to indoctrinate for certain ends, or to minister to narrow and special interests – all are examples of forces that impinge on the educative process and serve to make it noneducative or miseducative. Such pressures stem from conditions that are outside the educative process and run counter to the concept of education as enlightenment (p.226)”. (Tanner 1995) So are the assertions of some left-wing academia so far off?
I believe Dewey was correct in much of what he has said. I believe his discussions of the importance of the Hidden Curriculum or collateral learning. In fact, I might argue perhaps this is where the most learning process is truly taking place. The whole process of reflective thinking and do we educate to be reflective thinkers? As Dewey believes, I too believe, that we must move education towards society's problems and not away or ignore them when it comes to the educational process. And if we are to take a more social problem-solving approach are we really teaching social problem solving or do we teach the band-aide approach, do we look at the core of the problem or simply the surface issues? When Dewey speaks of a better society, the question that is never asked is who determines what a better society is?
I would also agree that the trend of our educational perspective today is rooted in specialization, the drill-skill-kill method of teaching, and the back-to-basics approach of the traditionalist. If we continue to ignore the nature of the learner the process will continue to go awry. However, those like Tanner and Tanner need to see that some of the arguments/concerns that they express are some of the same arguments that the so-called “new left-wing” express. Once again they argue “sources external to the educational process tend to impinge on the curriculum with the result that the school becomes vulnerable to narrow and vested miseducative interests. This commonly manifested in externally imposed and self-imposed censorship of the curriculum, the avoidance of controversial problems in the curriculum, the tendency toward indoctrination as a curricular function, and the delimitation of the curriculum to the safe function of skill development and the transmission of facts and information p. 238 .” (Tanner 1995) We can not ignore how special interest or national fervor replaces what the curriculum stands for.
Dewey was correct in this statement that the protest of the businessmen to return to the basics of the three R’s was fine for the masses, while their own children received the “frills” in education. In some respects, it was educational socialism for the rich and educational capitalism for the poor. It would seem to me that the fundamentalists appeal to a lowest common denominator of our society, by always looking for someone to blame? That it is those liberal or progressive educators that have caused the problems in education. If we could just return to the basics, we wouldn’t have the problems we have today.
If we are led to believe that some type of philosophy should be our guiding light to a more socially aware educational process, how can we do so if we are uneducated ourselves? When I speak of uneducated, what I mean is, if we are educated in a society whereby we are led not to question authority, not dig deeper into why things are the way they are, how can we possibly hope to move ahead? Dewey’s belief that the function of education is to unleash human potential, not to set limitations, is well-founded.
In preparing our students, when looking at mastery learning, incorporating numerous instructive materials, is it just a method of learning a specific set of materials rather than truly learning? And in so mastering of concepts are we truly promoting learning? In our methodology, we have trained not educated students. Students become disseminators of sound-bites of information without any knowledge beyond the simple yes or no answer or choice between A, B, C, or D. In being so focused on standardized testing to measure what students know we have turned students from learners into products.
This “scientific’’ movement was predicated on three main concepts; (1) The School as Factory, (2) The Child as Product, and (3) Standardized Testing as Quality Control. The child was thought of as a piece of raw material to be shaped by the educational “factory” into a quality “product.’’ Teaching became viewed as a form of training, and schools were expected to operate more like assembly lines, working on children as they passed through various stages of the curriculum. Once these factories were “up and running’’ and the standards for the “child as product’’ were determined, standardized testing became the means for measuring the quality of this product. (Serafini F. W 2002)
In being so obsessed with standardized testing we have an added troubling situation. Educational testing has resulted in spending millions of dollars per year by schools across the country. In so doing, we have those profiting from the selling of preparation and testing materials. The efforts then become a profit-driven endeavor more than an educational endeavor. And if we were to move away from this method of educating our children, how many of those companies would fight to make sure the well doesn’t run dry?
And what of those who look toward alternative schools or schools of choice as an alternative to our “failed” public schools. The development of these schools has to lead to in some respects another method to attempt to subsidize the rich and turn schools into profit-making businesses. In so doing, we risk the chance of being less educated. We fail to see that with this tremendous push for alternatives, we are really bringing into focus fewer alternatives in the long run.
The corporate media monopoly’s destructive impact on the public relates directly to the rise of the educational conglomerates in that both share the ability to monopolize knowledge production. Private monopolies on the production of knowledge and culture threaten the possibility of democracy because they frame issues and history in the corporate interest, disallow public access to media production and content control, eliminate curriculum or content which challenges structural inequalities and fail to distinguish the public from a private interest. (p.236)(Saltman K. J 2002)
In allowing corporate influence into the educational process, what do we risk?
[Corporate culture is] an ensemble of ideological and institutional forces that functions politically and pedagogically to both govern organizational life through senior managerial control and to produce compliant workers, spectatorial consumers, and passive citizens. Within the language and images of corporate culture, citizenship is portrayed as an utterly privatized affair whose aim is to produce competitive self-interested individuals vying for their own material and ideological gain. Reformulating social issues as strictly individual or economic issues, corporate culture functions largely to cancel out the democratic impulses and practices of civil society by either devaluing them or absorbing such impulses within a market logic. No longer a space for political struggle, culture in the corporate model becomes an all-encompassing horizon for producing market identities, values, and practices. The good life, in this discourse, ‘is construed as in terms of our identities as consumers – we are what we buy.’ Public spheres are replaced by commercial spheres as the substance of critical democracy is emptied out and replaced by a democracy of goods, consumer lifestyles, shopping malls, and the increasing expansion of the cultural and political power of corporations throughout the world. (Giroux 1999)
There will be those who might argue, given our current situation with school districts struggling to advance in today’s ever-changing world, what is wrong with a little corporate subsidy?
In the 1980s, Michael Milken was sent to prison for his illegal financial dealings – fraud and insider trading. However, his legal activities in the junk bond market were destructive to companies, retirees, and to the general public. He was a major factor in the Savings and Loan collapse that cost the public billions.
He invented the junk bond market, and after failing to reap sufficient rewards from personally investing in junk bonds, he profited enormously by selling risky junk investments to publicly backed savings and loans. He promoted and pioneered the use of junk in hostile corporate takeovers that destroyed businesses, labor unions, and job security while only enriching a tiny corporate elite, and prominently contributed to the rise of the corporate media monopoly. He promoted greed as a public virtue and still claims that his destructive profit-seeking behavior is the essence of democracy. Since his early release from prison, Milken has been building the first education conglomerate which is aimed at transforming public education into an investment opportunity for the wealthy by privatizing public schools, making kids into a captive audience for marketers, and redefining education as a corporate resource rather than a public good vital to the promotion of a democratic society. In Milken’s own words, his entry into education is a direct continuation of his financial activities. He calls his destructive financial practices the democratization of capital. He describes his vulture-like relationship to public education as the democratization of knowledge. In both cases, democracy does not refer to public control over public resources but rather intensified corporate control over public resources and public decision-making power. Part of what is so disturbing about Milken’s predatory move into education is that the popular press has hailed it as redemption for a man with a tainted history. In reality, Milken’s predatory financial activities, which bilked the public of billions while making him a billionaire, are continuing in education. (Saltman K. J 2002)
This cautionary quote is not only to warn of those who are attempting to make inroads into the educational “market,” but to those who are already there:
Through their control of media technology, the corporate elite limit, circumscribe and control access to the making of public meaning and they dominate the language in which issues are framed. The political and pedagogical implications of this struggle over the control of knowledge and language are readily apparent in corporatization of school curriculum. Shell Oil’s freely distributed video curriculum on the environment concentrates heavily on the virtues of the internal combustion engine, ‘while offering students pearls of wisdom like, “You can’t get to nature without gasoline or cars” ’ (Manning, 1999: 17). In this case, Shell Oil rewrites environmentalism as its diametrical opposite – the plunder, exploitation, and consumption of nature (p. 238) (Saltman K. J 2002)
Another alternative to our traditional model of educating is the concept of the Accelerated Schools. However, in establishing accelerated programs are we creating advanced learners or good test-takers. In being so anxious about test-taking, our students become anxiety-ridden and get stuck in the educational cycle of moving from one test preparation to the next without questioning.
A better alternative would be to have students involved in a more reflective, inquisitive approach. “In this quest, it is not enough to prepare oneself for an occupation, but one must also develop … responsible citizen (p. 365).”(Tanner 1995) The premise is a good one, but do we really create this? Our current methods of separating into subject matters seem more for operational convenience than for knowledge acquisition. The question to ask is, does the specialization of subject matter feed into the idea or existence of keeping people separated and isolated from one another and thus by isolating people we keep them apart and not a united front in perhaps questioning our policies and procedures. Teachers think their area of expertise is more important than others, a common occurrence in today’s schools only reinforces this separation. And does this specialization tend to make people feel their only value is in what they know in their tiny area of the universe (their specific classroom)? Bruener’s Spiral Curriculum concept of the mini-adult and specialist is one that turns students off from education. When we turn the child into physicists, as he states, we remove the curiosity of that child to explore their world. We force them to study information that has no connection to their world.
In moving away from this departmentalized world, are teachers in today’s world able to make the transition to a more synthesized curriculum, and what about the time factor to implement such integration? Today, if this synthesis is to occur it is left to the students having to take ownership while teachers or for that matter administrators don’t. What if we took all that is to be learned in math, science, social studies, etc., and came up with a way to implement lessons incorporating all of these subject areas with no stopping to put away our math book and get out our social studies book? Again the question must be raised can teachers and administrators move beyond our traditional approach? And what of the Disciplinarity Approach – When colleges prepare courses from the first course to prepare for a second, second for third, etc. How quickly do we turn off the student who is not the specialist or going to become the specialist? With a more collaborative approach with the merging of two fields of study, can we set aside egos and territoriality to promote learning? What if we created a new period during the day, the integration period, whereby all materials that are being taught are brought together, and Open Core opportunity, whereby the Teacher and pupil plan activities? Can this type of problem-focused approach work? Apparently so, as reported in the 8-year study, problem-focused vs. subject-focused, whereby the problem-focused approach provided positive results. Is this approach happening in today’s gifted and talented programs?
Are teachers open-minded enough to handle this approach? There are a few obstacles that stand in the way of this approach. Today, textbooks and curriculum materials geared toward subject areas make it easy for teachers to follow and easy for publishers to profit from. Resources that are needed may not be readily available.
In searching for alternatives, we look at the Dewey Laboratory School and which is based on the four impulses (social, constructive, investigative and experimental, and expressive/artistic) as a model to follow. Are students ready for this alternative approach? All you need to look at is the enthusiasm of the kindergartner versus the zombie appearance of the middle school student. Perhaps the freewheeling times of the ’60s and early ’70s were not allowed enough time for the dust to settle and become a truly creative learning experience. As we moved towards the Reagan ’80s and the cold-war hardliners, we again placed nationalistic priorities ahead of learning and when the Japanese began to surface as a technological leader we fell further behind in our creative approach with our need for specialization.
Tanner and Tanner point out, “For a pyramidal society putting a severe strain on obedience, the safest and best education is one that wears away the energy of youth in mental gymnastics, directs the glance toward the past, cultivates the memory rather than reason, gives polish rather than power, encourages acquiescence rather than inquiry, and teaches to versify rather than to think (p. 410).” (Tanner 1995) The Cardinal Principles report advocated what should be measured is growth, not mastery, besides the question must be asked mastery of what? The report is just as accurate today, as it was in 1918, when it stated, “The school is the one agency that may be controlled definitely and consciously by democracy for the purpose of unifying its people.”(Education 1918) It is too bad our leaders don’t follow this observation.
We too often have attacks on public education by conservatives. We have this outcry from conservatives that our educational system is a failure. The question must be raised in whose interests are they advocating? Too often, conservatives tend to look out for the vested interests of corporate America at the expense of the majority of Americans.
The new common sense that the highest mission and overriding purpose of schooling were to prepare students, at different levels, to take their places in the corporate order. The banking or transmission theory of school knowledge, which Freire identified more than thirty years ago as the culprit standing in the way of critical consciousness, has returned with a vengeance. Once widely scorned by educators from diverse educational philosophies as a flagrant violation of the democratic educational mission, it has been thrust to the fore of nearly all official pedagogy. P.4 (Aronowitz 1998)
As Molnar points out, the endless attacks on the quality of public education from the corporate sector come despite the fact that US corporations spend less on worker training than any other industrialized country. Obviously, the ‘quality' issue that corporate CEOs such as Louis Gerstner of IBM hurl at the public schools does not concern the schools from which IBM will draw employees. Those schools – heavily funded, largely white schools in suburbs – are providing IBM with well-educated members of the professional class. So the ‘failing’ schools are not the ones from which IBM intends to benefit by hiring their graduates. However, IBM can certainly benefit from convincing the government that IBM can allow urban schools and their students to compete with wealthy white suburban schools for IBM’s shrinking number of jobs if those urban schools buy IBM’s many products p.253.(Saltman K. J 2002)
With the focus on a single discipline approach, the thing to question is, are we creating better learners or simply distancing ourselves from others? Is it out of fear or need to view the world as a win-lose situation that we create this single-minded approach to education? With our tendency to flip-flopping of priorities in education, as we attempt to define them, we don’t stick with our decisions, and the vultures circle to sell their wares. Our myopic nationalistic focus on education hasn’t produced better learners or educators, instead, it has focused on specifics that have supported the military-industrial complex and once again the vultures' circle to sell their wares. Moving towards a more specialized, discipline-specific approach; are we furthering our alienation from real life? Do we continue to a battle with each other? What if we took a more unified, practical approach could we then find education being a relevant and dynamic experience?
We attempt to create a Teacher-Proof Curriculum – once again the development of materials that make life easier for the teacher and turn a profit for those selling their wares. As we develop a new curriculum, our tendency has been to deliver more alienated material from the student.
The current emphasis on method in the educational agenda views methodology as a panacea to promote learning in the classroom, from a deficit-based perspective of student academic achievement in which discrete forms of knowledge are considered to be directly reflected in high or low test scores (see Shor 1992). This perspective leads to social control, for it promotes a passive, unquestioning acceptance of everything said and done. A “teacher-proof ” methodology becomes a mechanistic and technical issue rather than a social, political, and moral issue: a “one size fits all” approach emphasizing passive obedience and doing what one is told. This ideology links the capitalist ethic of competitive individualism to academic and social experience, thereby preserving the existing forms and orthodoxies of mainstream culture. Ideas and social practices are uncritically reproduced. The teacher-student relationship is based on a punitive framework, a punishment/reward system that manipulates learning. Much of the teacher’s energy is devoted to imposing, establishing, and preserving control, whereas most of the students’ energy is absorbed in dealing with or against the control through resistance mechanisms such as fear, boredom, indifference, inattention, silence, open disruption, or general passivity.(p 166)(Chilcoat G.W and Ligon J.A 1998)
The other aspect in looking at educating children is how teachers’ personalities affect curriculum and how do we make that shift away from a single discipline approach to a more holistic approach? We have attempted with ideas, such as the open classroom. The idea was a good concept, however, has other ideas, it tended to be used more for space utilization and staffing. Similar to inclusion in the classroom tended to be used more for staff reduction and budgetary reasons. In discussing the differences between the slums and suburbs, Conant pointed out the great disparity of resources and facilities between these areas and made an impassioned plea to address these issues.(Conant 1961) However, we continue to ignore this situation. As school districts struggle to even survive they must deal with budget cuts and constant pressure to meet standards. How do we justify $200 billion dollars to fight a war that is questionable, and then plead poverty when it comes to providing adequate resources for our schools?
Discussion is given on the need for more/better education. Again we look to corporate America for answers, but what has been the history of corporations over the last 30 years? Move jobs overseas to some poor country where there are no labor laws and pay is lousy. Educational reform is just one piece of the puzzle that needs to be fixed, until we look at the socio-economic factors it is like fixing a flat tire on a bike by trying to take the top, which doesn’t look flat, and moving it to the bottom. With such programs as Goals 2000, No Child Left Behind, and other types of national policy, they tend to be catch phrases in which people can attach a statement to vent their anger towards public education. There is no substance behind the statement.
What of a well-rounded person, a person that has an interest in the pursuit of a better life for all? When we look towards the industry for educational solutions presently and in the past, we often fail to ask the question, “what’s in it for them,” as pointed out by Myrdal, “business and industry should be regarded as a supplement to, and not a replacement for the vocational and general education that should be provided by public educational institutions (p. 34)”(Myrdal 1965)
In all of this, the final question that arises is how to educate the educators to a new way of thinking, as well as those that have been so entrenched into this segregated, isolative approach towards curriculum. This technocratic methodological malaise relegates both teacher and students to roles as agents of the status quo by denying teacher autonomy, including creative and imaginative thought, and by ignoring students’ sociocultural histories, voices, and experiences. Teacher and students alike lose their critical abilities to change themselves and their world, both in and out of the classroom. The teacher becomes an accommodating high-level clerk or an obedient civil servant, simply carrying out predetermined content developed by “experts” and/or the school bureaucracy (Aronowitz and Giroux 1993). The students become passive and receptive: they do not define their own problems; they do not choose and develop their own resources; they do not formulate their own procedures; they do not evaluate their own results. The notion that students have different histories, experiences, linguistic practices, cultures, and talents is conveniently ignored. Students, particularly those from subordinated cultures, who have trouble in academic achievement or do not respond to “regular” or “normal” instruction are often submitted to blind replications of some generic instructional method that it is hoped will magically motivate them to master some specified content (Bartolomé 1994). Pedagogy under the banner of “academic achievement” is embedded in attempts at control: the “expert” creates a generic method; the teacher transmits it; the students absorb it. Boundaries are dictated both by the methods’ internal logic and by the requirement that the established social and power relationships be preserved. One consequence is that this approach serves to obfuscate real questions about real learning among all students, especially students of subordinated cultures. Students in schools look, think, and act alarmingly alike. Another consequence is that students become invisible in terms of how they name, see, and experience. They are robbed of their culture, language, history, and values—reduced to the status of objects to be acted upon instead of empowered as subjects who can and do act. Still worse, this technical approach to methodology, argue Whitson and Stanley (1995), is artificial, tailor-made for phony and bogus classrooms in which teaching occurs without any relevance to the real world. P. 167 (Chilcoat G.W and Ligon J.A 1998)
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