chapter  6
25 Pages

THE CHILD AND THE CURRICULUM

Although the developmental or spiral conception of school subjects helps to resolve the present-future dichotomy in education, some educationists find this approach irrelevant to the problem of curriculum reform. In their view, to attempt to resolve educational dilemmas by reference to the structure of human knowledge is to tackle the problem from the wrong end. An American critic of Bruner is doubtful whether 'a curriculum defined primarily on the structure of academic subjects' would do anything but exacerbate the problem which Whitehead had in mind when he wrote of 'the fatal disconnection of subjects which curses our modern education'. To 'Brunerize' the curriculum seems to be moving the educational centre of gravity away from the learner: 'consider the illustrations which Bruner uses: what factors determine the location of a city? Does the angle of incline determine the course of an inch-worm in climbing over an obstruction? How sound is Turner's thesis on the influence of the frontier on American life? I found not one illustration that seemed to relate to the problem of day-by-day living of ordinary citizens.'1 The essence of this criticism is that Bruner's are 'academic' questions which ordinary men would rarely be prompted to ask about the universe in which they live. (See pp. 123-4, 210 for discussion of the use of the word 'academic' in educational discourse.) A similar criticism of subject-based courses is implicit in a recent British publication advocating an integrated approach to the teaching of the humanities: 'a frequent cause of failure (that is to say, with the young schoolleaver) seems to be that the course is often based on the traditional belief that there is a body of content for each separate subject which every young school-leaver should know. In the

least successful courses this body of knowledge is written into the curriculum without any real consideration of the needs of the boys and girls, and without any question of its relevance'.2 Against this background of continued criticism of the domination of educational theory and practice by 'subject-matter specialists' it is useful to examine the implications of two child-centred axioms: that 'we teach children, not subjects' and that the schooling ought to be related to life (see Chapter 7).