Schooling, and the curriculum specifically, have been portrayed as both an extension of a society’s culture (Reynolds & Skilbeck, 1976) and a forum in which a variety of interest groups within a society compete to promote their conception of valid knowledge (Goodson, 1994). This chapter explores the relationship between curriculum and culture through an analysis of the career of the Target Oriented Curriculum (TOC), which is the most comprehensive attempt to date to reform the curriculum of Hong Kong’s primary schools. We shall trace the reform from its inception to its enactment in a school and identify how it was shaped by the multitude of interest groups that influenced its creation and subsequent adaptation in classrooms. The competition to define the nature of the curriculum was intense because the reform was systemic, comprehensive, radical, rushed, and introduced into a Chinese community by a departing colonial government within a period that was intensely politicized
As Peshkin (1992) noted, “culture” is a ubiquitous, amorphous, overused, and over-defined term-to the extent that a conception to match nearly any purpose can be found. With reference to Hong Kong and other East Asian societies, “culture” has frequently been used in the context of education to explain the differences between the academic achievements of Asian and Western societies. Specifically, Confucianism and/or Asian values have been identified as key features of the culture of East Asian societies and an explanation for the high levels of academic achievement of Asian pupils compared to their Western counterparts (Reynolds & Farrell, 1996). Such analyses focus on what Linton (1936) termed the universal component of culture, which depicts societies as homogeneous and underscores the significance of the many
smaller and specialized groups whose ways of thinking and acting are more akin to those of sub-cultures. Our preferred conception of culture is that of Metz (1983), who defined it as “a broad, diffuse and potentially contradictory body of shared understandings about what is and what ought to be” (p. 237). The reference to “what ought to be” captures the imperative and normative tone of curriculum reforms, whilst the stress on the diffuse and contradictory nature of culture moves beyond its portrayal as a singular and systematic set of beliefs.