I love the readings for this course (Integrated Planning, Instruction, and Assessment) – they have provided much needed clarity on the development and implementation of curricula. The interrelatedness of educational philosophies, conceptions of curriculum, and curricular design is an interesting, albeit complicated, subject for both research and practical application. When individual students, teachers, parents, administrators, and governments get involved – it’s nearly impossible to find an appropriate balance that honours people’s needs and wants while also ensuring consistency of educational programming. These readings do not prescribe the methods to achieve that balance – but they have provided some of the language for those who endeavour to study the issue.

But that’s one heck of a rabbit hole to go down in a blog post. Instead – I’ll share a few notes and thoughts about Educational Philosophies and Curricular Design Planning. This builds on my previous post (Conceptions of Curriculum) – and, throughout the summer I expect to arrive at some moment of clarity on the issue… eventually.

Educational Philosophies

In Philosophy as a basis for curriculum decisions in The High School Journal 74, pages 102-109, Ornstein identifies the four major educational philosophies which have influenced curriculum in the United States (the philosophies are likewise recognizable in Canada). Perrenialism, Essentialism, Progressivism, and Reconstructionism.

Perrenialism – The goal is to cultivate the intellect; to educate the rational person. Focuses on mastery of facts and timeless knowledge. Looks to teach the big ideas and burning questions of the classical subjects. Taught through discussion, argumentation, and the desire to distill truths.

Essentialism – The goal is to develop the intellectual growth of the individual. Students are taught to master the concepts and principles of essential skills and subjects. Back to basics!

Progressivism – The goal is to promote democratic, social living. Teaching is based on student interests – looking to real problems from an inter-disciplinary approach. Humanistic education based on relevance to the learners.

Reconstructionism – The goal is to improve society through reconstruction. Education is the means to promote change and social reform. Analysis of social, economic, and political problems in the context of the present and how to progress to the future.

I find myself caught between progressivism and reconstructionism. When I made the decision to become a teacher ~six years ago, I thought the purpose of education is to provide for the individual. “To help students both achieve and expand their potential” was how I put it on applications and Faculty entrance essays… And I do very much believe that I teach so that my students can achieve more because of, not despite, me.

That said – as a member of a community, with all of our social, economic, and political illnesses rearing their ugly heads – I can’t help but wish for a better future. We need to reform our society – and if education is a means for that reform – then why shouldn’t I do all that I can to make that happen? As political a profession as teaching should be, I still have well-placed apprehensions of placing my vision for our future ahead of my students’ right to decide a vision for themselves. At the same time – it would be silly of me to not acknowledge my own biases – especially when I teach students to identify bias in the works with which they interact.

And so I’ll let these thoughts and issues stew… and hopefully I’ll come to some happy compromise between the two.

Curricular Designs

Ornstein, in a separate publication Curriculum: Foundations, principles, and issues, pages 149-173 (6th ed.), outlines the three basic designs of curriculum: subject-centered, learner-centered, and problem-centered.

Subject-Centered Design – This is the most widely-used curricular design field. One of the sub-categories I like is “discipline design” – where students approach subjects as practitioners would – history is viewed, explored as a historian would; science as a scientist… The main criticism is that this assumes that all students in each discipline have the same learning style. That said – some of the more interesting classes and learning activities happen when students have a chance to perform science or investigate history.

Learner-Centered Design – Found more often in environments conducive to “whole-child” emphasis and development – elementary schools are the traditional home of this style. I really like the humanistic design approach found under this heading. Where curricular content brings out emotions as well as thoughts. Where education is there so that students can become fully functioning persons. Self-actualization is the goal – and this design is the mechanism to enable that to be achieved.

Problem-Centered Design – I hear/read/see more and more about this design style on twitter, blogs, and in collegial conversation. There’s a focus on real-life problems of both individuals and the society as a whole. A former prof of mine loved the reconstructionist design found under this heading: the belief that curriculum should foster social action aimed at reconstructing society.

There’s a lot to think about, a lot to consider. More thoughts on these considerations later.