23 SES 12 D, Curriculum Policies, Democracy and Social Justice
In 2009 the Swedish liberal conservative Government proposed a reform of Swedish upper-secondary school. The Government Bill stressed the importance of making history a compulsory subject with reference to a multicultural society and globalisation. History teaching would contribute to the pupils’ enhanced understanding of past and present society and prepare them for active and critical citizenship (Govern. Bill 2008/09:199). As a consequence, history was made compulsory in upper secondary vocational education and training (VET) tracks. A characteristic of the reform was that it increased division between academic and VET tracks, thereby breaking a 40 year trend of integration. VET and academic post-compulsory education had become unified in one upper secondary organisation, ‘gymnasium’ in1971. The integration between academic and VET tracks has since 1991 been constituted by a common core of general subjects: civics, religion and general science – but not history (Govern. Bill 1990/91:85). The gradual increase of general subjects was partly based on the idea of a knowledge economy, with a workforce in lifelong learning to promote long term economic growth. In 2011, the time in the curriculum allocated to general subjects was reduced in favour of more vocational education. Moving in another direction was history that was made compulsory with arguments about citizenship education and expectancies of contribution to social cohesion and critical thinking proficiencies (Author forthcoming). The introduction of history in post-compulsory VET curriculum might come across as an anomaly in a general international trend of instrumentality and vocationalism in curriculum (eg. Wheelahan 2010). By examining the construction of the history syllabus for VET I want to contribute to the understanding of the distribution and recontextualisation of potentially powerful knowledge to students in educational pathways preparing for more of manual work and less powerful social positions. In this study of transition and transformation of knowledge from the field of history to a history course for the VET curriculum the central theoretical concepts originate from Bernstein (2000). With the model of the pedagogic device as a framework, I present an examination of the struggle of power and control over the ‘what’ and ‘how’ in the construction of the history syllabus for VET. The aim is eventually to address the question of the VET students’ potential of access to powerful knowledge through history education. To examine the process of curriculum making, I pose the following questions. What, from the field of knowledge production, is recontextualized in the history course for VET? How can we define the pedagogic code that the history syllabus communicates? What is open for negotiation and changeable in the process of curriculum making? Who can exert influence, i.e. what is the relationship between the official recontextualising field (ORF) and pedagogical recontextualising field (PRF), knowledge production field and reproduction field? Bernstein makes a distinction between esoteric and mundane knowledge discourse, and argues that the distribution of abstract and theoretical knowledge is a precondition for democracy (Bernstein 2000, Wheelahan 2010). With this in mind, a compulsory history course might seem as a promise of more powerful forms of knowledge in upper-secondary VET. However, in order to assess the potential of history education VET we must look at the context of the reform, and not the least, on the pedagogic code of the history syllabus for VET.
Bernstein, Basil (2000). Pedagogy, symbolic control and identity: theory, research, critique (London, Taylor & Francis). Government Bill (2008-09:199) Högre krav och kvalitet i den nya gymnasieskolan (Higher demands and Quality of New Upper Secondary School) (Stockholm, Ministry of Education). Government Bill (1990-91:85) Växa med kunskaper-om gymnasieskolan och vuxenutbildningen (Growing With and By Knowledge - on upper secondary and adult education) (Stockholm, Ministry of Education). Wheelahan, Leesa. (2010). Why knowledge matters in curriculum: a social realist argument. (Abingdon, Oxon, Routledge). Skolverket (Swedish National Agency for Education), Arkiv, Projekt: Gymnasieskola i reformering (Upper secondary school under reform) Project Dnr 2009:520, Dnr 2009:537
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