17 SES 01, Paper Session
Issues that appear as debated and controversial in a society change over time with social changes and topical events. Schoolteachers, particularly in social studies subjects, need to in their teaching address enduring as well as suddenly appearing controversial issues. This is often didactically challenging as teachers might have limited knowledge about new issues, accessible sources of information might offer different or competing interpretations of what is going on and students might hold strong and emotionally laden differing opinions (Cowan & Maitles 2012, 5; Hess 2009, Hand 2008). However, we do not know much about how topical controversial issues are, and have been, handled in schools in the Swedish context (Ljunggren, Unemar Öst & Englund 2015). A newly started research project, financed by the Swedish Research Council, will investigate how Swedish teachers today and curriculum guidelines from 1962 and onwards handle topical controversial issues.
This paper presents the historical sub study of the project, which analyzes curriculum guidelines for the social studies subjects from 1962 and onwards. What is presented as controversial issues? How shall these issues be taught? What implications are noticed and what difficulties are foreseen connected to teaching about controversial issues? What similarities and differences between the subjects can be found? Based on these research questions, the paper will discuss how the curriculum changes over time and how these changes can be understood in relation to their social and educational contexts.
The project is theoretically based on an assumption that subjects (disciplines as well as school subjects) are partly different cultures (Kreber 2009; Goodson 1993). Not only their object of knowledge are separate, but also opinions about for example truth, meaning, interpretation and analysis might differ, as opinions about depth and breadth, and what is seen as general or specific (Messer-Davidow, Shumway & Sylvan 1993). This goes also for the social studies subjects civics, geography, history and religion although they in Swedish comprehensive schooling are close to each other and in curriculum guidelines are partly presented together as social studies and given joint goals. The project will also employ the analytical lens of major functions of education: qualification, socialization, subjectification (Biesta 2009) and existentialization (Aspelin 2015). Based on this, it is assumed in the project that the social studies subjects might contribute in different ways to the functions of schooling.
The project has a subject comparative ambition based on the theoretical assumptions presented above. The historical curriculum study, which is presented here, analyses the curriculum guidelines for civics, geography, history and religion for grades 7, 8 and 9 (students 13-15 years) from 1962 and up until today (guidelines connected to the national central steering documents Lgr 62, Lgr 69, Lgr 80, Lpo 94, and Lgr 11). A thematic content analysis will be made from the research questions, and a comparative analysis using Biesta’s/Aspelin’s concepts. The empirical findings and the changes over time will be related to relevant social and educational contexts.
The historical study of the curriculum guidelines will show how what is deemed as controversial issues, and how teachers should deal with them in their teaching changes over time. I expect to find similarities and differences between the subjects when it comes to the prescribed teaching of controversial issues, showing how the educational functions are given different weight and turn out differently. The results of the historical study may provide insights that can lead to a better understanding of the educational cultures of the social studies subjects. They will serve as a base and point of reference for the analyses in the project of today’s teaching.
Aspelin, J (2015), “The elementary forms of educational life: understanding the meaning ofeducation from the concept of ‘social responsivity’”, Social Psychology of Education 18:3. Biesta, G (2009), “Good education in an age of measurement: On the need to reconnect with the question of purpose in education”, Educational Assessment, Evaluation and Accountability 21:1. Cowan, P & H Maitles (2012), Teaching Controversial Issues in the Classroom: Key Issues and Debates. London & New York: Continuum. Goodson, I.F. (1993), School Subjects and Curriculum Change. London: Falmer Press. Hand, M (2008), “What Should we Teach as Controversial? A Defense of the Epistemic Criterion”, Educational Theory 58:2. Hess, D (2009), Controversy in the Classroom: The Democratic Power of Discussion. New York: Routledge. Kreber, C red. (2009), The university and its disciplines: teaching and learning within and beyond disciplinary boundaries. New York: Routledge. Ljunggren, C, I Unemar Öst & T Englund red. (2015), Kontroversiella frågor: Om kunskap och politik i samhällsundervisningen. Malmö: Gleerups. Messer-Davidow, E, D Shumway & D J Sylvan (1993), Knowledges: Historical and Critical Studies in Disciplinarity. Charlottesville & London: University Press of Virginia.
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