chapter  2
12 Pages

Curriculum Change: Limits and Possibilities

This chapter is concerned with the problem of cur riculum change and with developing a theory that might assist teachers in changing and improving the curriculum at school level. It is based on a paper written over a decade before the National Curriculum was introduced, when in theory, individual secondary schools had much freedom to devise their own curricula. It was wr i t ten as a k ind of caut ionar y war n ing about over-s impl i f ied interpretations of the idea that educational reality was ‘socially constructed’. The relevance of the argument to teachers and others in 1998, a decade after the National Curriculum became law, is l ikely to be very different. Its focus, l ike that of Chapter 1, is on the conceptions of knowledge that underlie different views of the curriculum rather than on the specifics of curriculum content. However, in developing what I would call a modified social constructivist view of knowledge, it stresses how even an external structure such as the National Curriculum has to be interpreted by teachers to become a reality in schools and that it is in that process of interpretation that the scope and need for teachers’ professional autonomy can be found. It is therefore more about interpreting than constructing the curriculum and about what it means to assert the importance of teachers inter preting National Curriculum guidelines. The argument implies that, if, following the 1998 Review of the National Curriculum, the prescriptions on schools, at least in Key Stage 4, are to be reduced, teachers will need a more sophisticated theory of knowledge and the curriculum than is made available to them in many teacher training courses which concentrate largely on the specifics of content. The analysis recognizes that the learning experiences of students are shaped as much by the communities where they live as by what is possible in the classroom and that this has implications for schools and for how teachers see their role. It is based on a critical examination of two contrasting conceptions of the curriculum, which are well expressed by the American philosopher Maxine Greene (1971). She describes the dominant view of the curriculum in terms of ‘a structure of socially prescribed knowledge, external to the knower, there to be mastered’ and goes on to contrast this with her own phenomenological view of the curriculum as ‘a possibility for the learner as an existing person mainly concerned with making sense of his own life-world’. This latter view has many affinities with the idea that the cur riculum is social ly constructed that

was introduced in Chapter 1; i t had a powerful inf luence, through the writings of Alfred Schutz, George Herbert Mead and Berger and Luckman, on the sociology of education in the 1970s.