Final Curriculum Theory Course Reflections

This class has presented a broad overview of the various theories, perspectives, and approaches to the development of curriculum. The text has covered the various historical shifts that have occurred in the United States in regard to the attitude toward public schooling along with the purpose of educating the populace.

While much of the text contained relevant and helpful information and discussion pieces regarding curriculum in the U.S. I noticed a lack of significant conversation surrounding what is often referred to informally as the “Hidden Curriculum.” The topic was mentioned in passing, indicating the lower level of importance this book placed upon this structural aspect of curriculum.

The silence probably appeared more prominent against the other research I was doing into Elliot Eisner’s work with curriculum. In the 1979 book Educational Imagination, Eisner discusses the explicit, implicit, and the null curriculum. Each of these types of curriculum are found in the variety of curriculum theories.

The explicit curriculum is easy enough to understand in that it is concerned with what is intended to be taught, i.e. the mathematical concept of addition.

The implicit is what students learn though the teacher and the system may never identify it as part of the curriculum. Examples of this tend to be more social and reflect societal values, i.e. rarely calling on the girls in a classroom to solve the difficult math equations. This implicit element tends to re-enforce the dominate, hegemonic structures.

The null curriculum refers to the material and topics that are never brought into the classroom to be taught. Generally identifying what a classroom lacks assists in identifying they implicit curriculum. In the United States, the best example of null curriculum is the lack of teaching that includes the narrative of the First Nations in any way other than as historical entities.

In learning about the four predominate curricula in the US – humanistic, academic, systemic, and social reconstructionist (McNeil, 2014) – I noticed that three curricula Eisner (1979) identified could happen in each. A humanistic framework for the curriculum may place a more preeminent value on the whole student, but if the school or teacher implements lessons that reinforce that common narratives, the null curriculum of first nations and women in history remains. Part of the goal of social reconstructionist curriculum is to include these silenced narratives and move them into the explicit curriculum. The challenge is to simultaneously combat the implicit curriculum tendencies that reinforce the broader dominate cultural narratives regarding who should be included in the conversation and what kinds of knowledge are allowed. For example, if a teacher is working from a social reconstructionist framework and the topic being discussed is women’s contributions to technology and the only students called on in a mixed gendered class are the male-identified, the implicit lesson is that the women in the class do not have acceptable knowledge or status to contribute.

Thinking through all of the theories regarding curriculum, along with all of the factors that go into the creation of the curriculum that shows up in the classroom, I find similar conclusions to the impact of Common Core – the impact and effectiveness of the curriculum relies significantly on the teacher and their ability to connect with students and their perspective regarding students.

In the class conversations, we kept circling back to the connections teachers had with their students. The accepted understanding is that students learn best from and with teachers they feel connected to and who they feel cares for them. Some in the class felt that the regulations at the time made it difficult students and teachers to bond with their students. Other students felt that the type of curriculum framework inherently prevent the teacher-student connection. While some of the frameworks might set up a more adversarial relationship between the student and teacher, the conflict is not one of the desired outcomes of any of the frameworks or theories we studied or discussed.

The theoretical frameworks for curriculum were helpful to learn more about for their language in describing the ways teachers and the myriad of structural components work in educational settings. This semester has also covered the history of how curriculum has developed, which helps with understanding how the curriculum plays out in the classroom. Seeing the paths of the predominate curriculum theories over their development provided insight into places where the curricula could potentially be tweaked to better include the technological and social developments. Reading more about the curricula drove home the point that none of the approaches are static but ever evolving. The fact that the curricula we use today is not exactly what we used before actually provided a marginal space for hope to continue the changes that are being identified from all of the stake holders in education. And though the challenges facing any adjustment can seem daunting, the history shows that they are not always insurmountable.

Now at the end of the course, the road ahead to help make the changes that seem necessary seems possible despite the difficulty.