23 SES 06 D, European Policies on the School Curriculum (Part 2)
Paper Session: continued from 23 SES 05 D
PISA studies have built up a remarkable success story of the Finnish general basic education and Finnish educational policy. Finnish pupils have succeeded best in the Europe and have ranked highly on the world scale. This has not been achieved through neo-liberal reforms which have been implemented worldwide in order to make education more efficient, competitive and measurable. Vice versa, one of the most convincing explanation for the Finnish success has been the historically stable professional autonomy of teachers (Sahlberg, 2012). The erasure of academic freedom of teachers has not taken place in Finland. The high professional autonomy is manifested in the National Curriculum which gives a lot of freedom for teachers on the local and on the class room level. The absence of both inspection regime and quality assurance measures mean that teachers are among most autonomous in their profession throughout the world. In this paper, we analyze how Finnish National Curriculum is constructed through a democratic will-formation process. However, in the real world, there is no such thing as purely open and free discourse but there may be spaces which are more or less communicative and participatory. Our aim is to analyze the communicative space of Finnish National Curriculum design through the lenses of the discourse theory of law, introduced by the German philosopher Jürgen Habermas (1996).
Curriculum design has many features which resemble legislation in the democratic societies. Principally, the National Curriculum in Finland is formed through a democratic process. Finally, after an open discourse, it becomes a binding norm. But how democratic the process actually is? The discourse theory of law and the theory of democratic will-formation offers us a description of ideal conditions for legislation in democratic societies, and since the National Curriculum in Finland includes features of legislation, it is natural to apply the discourse theory of law to curriculum design. Habermas offers a variant of deliberative democracy in explaining how the norms become legitimate. The Discourse Principle D states that “just those actions norms are valid to which all possibly affected persons could be agree as participants in rational discourse” (Habermas, 1996, 107). By the expression “those affected” Habermas means “anyone whose interests are touched by the foreseeable consequences of a general practice regulated by the norms at issue”(ibid.). When this principle is applied, it becomes obvious that a policy document such as the National Curriculum would affect a wide body of citizens.
Norm has legitimacy if it is formed in the manner that corresponds to conditions described by Habermas. We may ask whether the factual norms (“facticity”) are set up through a truly democratic process which establishes the moral and ethical ground of the norms (“validity”). In an ideal situation facticity and validity are both strong. One can question the validity of a norm if the norm in question is not formed though a democratic manner or, alternatively, if the norm has lost its moral and ethical acceptability as time goes by.
While we acknowledge the impact of reconceptualist paradigm (Autio 2003) in curriculum theorizing and view the curriculum as socially, culturally and politically contested field, in this paper we focus on how curricula as binding written norms gain their legitimacy. We thus omit the questions of hidden curriculum, received curriculum or planned curriculum (Kelly 1999) and focus on the official reports. There reports are ideally open to debate for all of the affected citizens – first and foremost teachers, parents and pupils. Applying the conceptual tools of discourse theory of law, we analyze whether the curriculum design on the national level is a truly democratic process or some form of quasi-democracy.
Grundy, S. 1987. Curriculum: Product or Praxis. London: Falmer. Habermas, J. 1992. Faktizität und Geltung. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp. Habermas, J. 1996. Between Facts and Norms. Oxford: Polity. Huttunen, R. & Heikkinen, H. 1998. Between Facts and Norms: Action Research in the Light of Jürgen Habermas’s Theory of Communicative Action and Discourse Theory of Justice. Curriculum Studies 6, 306–22. Kelly, A.V. 1999. The Curriculum. Theory and Practice. London: Paul Chapman. Kemmis, S. 2001. Educational research and evaluation: Opening communicative space. Australian Educational Researcher 28(1), 1-30. Pinar, W.F. 2012. What is Curriculum Theory? New York: Routledge. Sahlberg, P. 2012. Finnish lessons. What can the world learn from educational change in Finland. New York: Teachers College Press.
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