23 SES 08 D, The Politics of School Knowledge
Influenced by technologies of governance at the global scale (marketisation, management and performativity), education, and specifically, curriculum, becomes increasingly globalised and standardised. The drive for more educational accountability stimulated international comparative measurement through testing regimes such as PISA, and international comparison of test scores requires, to some degree, standardised curricula. But as Lingard et al (2013) attest, however powerful standardising forces of global governance are, vernacular political, economic and cultural contexts generate specific manifestations of curriculum policies in different nations.
1) What are current debates about curriculum knowledge (and its politics) in schools?
2) What discourses of school knowledge inform school curriculum policy in different countries?
3) How do teachers understand, negotiate, resist and enact curriculum policy?
4) What implications does consideration of the politics of curriculum knowledge bear for current curriculum theorising?
National contexts – Australia, England, Ireland
Until 2011, individual Australian states were responsible for curriculum policy, with different curricula developing in line with state histories and structures (Yates and Collins, 2010). In the new (national) Australian Curriculum, the knowledge configuration consists of a mix of traditional academic subjects together with ‘general capabilities’ (or competencies) eg literacy, numeracy, ICT, critical and creative thinking, plus three cross-curricula priorities: Aboriginal and Torres Straits Islanders’ histories and cultures; Asian Futures and Sustainability, woven into each subject.
The current emphasis in the prescribed subject-based National Curriculum for England is on ‘core’ knowledge – a traditional neo-conservative configuration with affinities to E.D. Hirsch’s ‘cultural literacy’ movement (Winter, 2014). ‘Incentivisation’ in student subject choice occurs via the E-Bacc, whereby school performance points are ‘earned’ by students selecting a restricted sample of traditional academic subjects. Recent additions to the school curriculum include ‘character education and resilience’ and British Values.
Two factors influence school knowledge reform in Ireland: the patronage system of schooling (e.g., 96% of primary schools are under Catholic Church patronage); and the historical top-down approach to curriculum reform, leaving teachers with little agency (Gleeson 2010). Two recent curriculum initiatives - one embracing flexible learning, key skills, and outcomes-based assessment at the junior cycle (Looney 2014), the other religious education and ethics in primary school – have met with strong resistance by teachers and the Church, respectively, making policy change highly contentious.
Two categories of curriculum theorisation form the backdrop to this symposium and are subject to critical scrutiny through the contributors’ studies. The first focuses on conceptualisations of curriculum knowledge, such as powerful vs everyday knowledge (Young, 2013); horizontal vs vertical knowledge (Bernstein, 1999); disciplines vs skills (RSA/Bayliss, 1999); nationalistic knowledge (Trohler, 2016) and the politics and ethics of curriculum language (Derrida, 1978). Second, the symposium is interested to challenge orthodox theories of learning (behaviourist, constructivist, cognitivist) and to investigate the role of curriculum knowledge in the process of the student becoming a subject (Todd, 2001).
The three papers take up questions about politics, knowledge, identities and curriculum purposes in three different national settings, and also from different entry points. Todd’s work focuses on debates surrounding the new ethical curriculum in Ireland, analysing to what degree it responds to the issues of pluralism it is seeking to address. Winter’s paper focuses on a new overtly political policy development in England – the introduction of an explicit values curriculum, and addresses the gap between policy intentions and enacted curriculum forms in relation to knowledge and identity. Yates’ paper takes up the issue of how adequately humanities subjects are positioned as forms of knowledge, both in current policy frameworks and in some major theoretical debates about curriculum, knowledge and identity.
Bernstein, B. (1999) Vertical and horizontal discourse. British Journal of Sociology of Education 20 (2), 157-173. Derrida, J. (1978) Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences. In Writing and Difference. London: Routledge. Gleeson, J. (2010) Curriculum in Context: Partnership, Power and Praxis in Ireland. Oxford: Peter Lang. Hobbs, K. (2016) The constitution and implementation of the English Baccalaureate. EdD thesis. Sheffield University Unpublished. Lingard, B., Martino, W. and Rezai-Rahsti, G. (2013) Testing regimes, accountabilities and education policy: commensurate global and national developments. Journal of Education policy 28 (5),539-556. Looney, A. (2014) “Curriculum Politics and Practice: From ‘Implementation’ to ‘Agency’.” Irish Teachers’ Journal 2 (1),7–14. RSA/Bayliss, V. (1999) Opening Minds: Education for the 21st Century. London: RSA. Todd, S. (2001) 'Bringing more than I contain’: ethics, curriculum and the pedagogical demand for altered egos. Journal of Curriculum Studies 33 (4),431-450. Trohler, D. (2016) Curriculum history or the educational construction of Europe in the long nineteenth century. EERJ 15 (3), 279-297. Winter, C. (2014) Curriculum knowledge, justice, relations: The Schools’ White Paper (2010) in England. Journal of Philosophy of Education 48 (2),276-292. Yates, L. and Collins, C. (2010) The absence of knowledge in Australian curriculum reforms. European Journal of Education 45 (1),89-102. Young, M.D.F. (2013) Overcoming the crisis in curriculum theory. Journal of Curriculum Studies 45 (2),101-118.
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