This is a special PhD edition post! I was asked to write a “philosophy of curriculum” paper because my program is a doctorate of philosophy in education with a concentration on curriculum, instruction, assessment, and evaluation. Reading the history and evolution of curriculum and the roles war and economics have played in guiding it was sad; unsurprising, and still sad. My goal in earning this degree is to help normalize and legitimize rehumanizing education.
Curriculum is at the core of this Doctor of Education program, so having a strong personal philosophy about the definition and purpose of curriculum is key. It is also important to have a philosophy for how curriculum should be developed, implemented, and evaluated. Important questions to consider are: What is included in a curriculum that can be adequately differentiated to meet the needs of diverse learners and educators in a culturally responsive, critical way? How can all stakeholders work together to create intelligent accountability (Fullan, 2011) in curricula? What do evaluators need to look for to measure the efficacy of curricula?
What is Curriculum?
Franklin & Johnson (2008) indicate the historical definitions of curriculum have fluctuated over the years. Some definitions include instruction as integral to content, while some definitions limit curriculum strictly to content, specifically content broken down by discipline and usually in the form of textbooks. While the first definition of curriculum, written by Franklin Bobbitt, was based on industrial efficacy (Cullen, Harris, & Hill, 2012), modern curricularists are faced with postindustrial-era education needs.
Students and educators now have access to virtually infinite amounts of information, or what has traditionally been defined as “content”. The goal then becomes producing critically conscious consumers and manipulators of information (Laureate, 2017). The “what” to teach, therefore, is only important insofar as it provides relevant, real-world problems that students are then asked to critically engage with and apply their learning to real-world scenarios. Ideally, these scenarios will be racial and social justice oriented, encouraging students to be positive change makers as young people, not when they “grow up”. This curriculum philosophy most closely aligns with what is sometimes called critical theorists (Miller, 2011).
Who Creates Curriculum?
Levin (2008) outlines the various political pressures that continue to determine who is responsible for creating curriculum. Everyone from higher education faculty to school boards and parents believe they are expert curricularists and have a right to create, inform, and approve or reject proposed curricula. Levin (2008) discusses the phenomenon in which a person believes they have expertise by virtue of having been a student. Franklin & Johnson (2008) add the role that politics, specifically the Cold War, and economics have played in determining who writes curricula, including politicians and business leaders. This can currently be seen with the advent of the Common Core and other education reform led by Bill Gates and the Gates Foundation (Ho, 2018).
Though many reports indicate the failures (Ho, 2018) and inherent racism in contemporary education reform, which can be defined as high-stakes standards-based reform (Au, 2009; Kendi, 2016), we continue to look to politicians and business leaders to spearhead curriculum development. Professional educators continue to be at the margins of curriculum development. This is a serious deficit that needs to be corrected. Master educators become expert pedagogues only through practice, reflection, and personal and professional development. There is need for family, student, and community input, but only insomuch as there is meaningful collaboration with skilled, trained, professional pedagogues. Politicians and business leaders should never inform curriculum, as they tend to only have their own interests, and not the interests of children – or even the nation – in mind.
How Is Curriculum Evaluated?
Because of the political and economic influences on education, specifically curriculum, current curricula tend to be evaluated in terms of mastery of standards, including the Common Core and other state-specific standards (Levin, 2008). Common Core standards tend to focus on discreet skills, which necessitates a pedagogy that compartmentalizes learning, instead of synthesizing learning in critical thought and practice (Common Core, n.d.). These inequitable measurements are not improving the outcomes of students, particularly students of color (Barshay, 2019; Au, 2011; Kendi, 2016).
Perception data and portfolio assessments may lend themselves better to measuring the efficacy of curriculum. Student and family perception of how and what they are learning can indicate how well a curriculum is meeting the needs of the stakeholders education is meant to serve. Portfolio assessments, which ask students to “show what they know”, can encourage the critical synthesis within and among disciplines (Hopkins, 2017), a skill many education advocates claim they want students to leave school with, including business leaders (Peart, 2019), and they are a more rigorous way to measure curriculum efficacy.
Curriculum is the heart of teaching and learning, and in a postindustrial education setting, instruction is an essential element of an effective curriculum that prepares diverse learners to be responsible and critical consumers of knowledge. While community should play a role in creating curriculum, respect for the professional skill and knowledge cultivated over years of practice should place educators at the center of curriculum creation. The outcomes of curriculum are best evaluated by those using it to learn: students and their families. Ending high-stakes evaluation of curriculum, and by extension education, and putting human factors back into the assessment of curriculum will produce civic-minded students ready to tackle the problems of the 21st century and many generations to come.
Au, W. (2011). Unequal by Design; High stakes testing and the standardization of inequity. New York, NY: Routledge.
Barshay, J. (2019). Five years after Common Core, a mysterious spike in failure rate among NY high school students. Hechinger Report. Retrieved from https://hechingerreport.org/five-years-after-common-core-a-mysterious-spike-in-failure-rate-among-ny-high-school-students/
Common Core. (n.d.). Read the standards. Retrieved from http://www.corestandards.org/read-the-standards/
Cullen, R., Harris, M., & Hill, R. R. (2012). The learner-centered curriculum: Design and implementation. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Franklin, B. & Johnson, C. (2008). What the schools teach: a social history of the American curriculum since 1950. In F.M. Connelly, M. F. He & J. Phillion. The SAGE handbook of curriculum and instruction. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications Ltd. doi: 10.4135/9781412976572.n23
Fullan, M. (2011). Change leader; Learning to do what matters most. San Francisco, CA:Jossey-Bass.
Ho, S. (2018). AP analysis shows how Bill Gates influences education policy. AP News. Retrieved from https://apnews.com/a4042e82ffaa4a34b50ceac464761957
Hopkins, A. (2017). High schools turning to student portfolios to assess academic progress. EdSource. Retrieved from https://edsource.org/2017/high-schools-turning-to-student-portfolios-to-assess-academic-progress/580147
Kendi, I. X. (2016). Stamped from the beginning; The definitive history of racist ideas in America. New York, NY: Nation Books.
Laureate Education, Inc. (Executive Producer). (2017). Curriculum and the forces that shape it [Video file]. Baltimore, MD: Author.
Levin, B. (2008). Curriculum policy and the politics of what should be learned in schools. In F. Connelly, M. F. He, & J. Phillion. The SAGE Handbook of Curriculum and Instruction. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications Ltd. doi: 10.4135/9781412976572.n1
Miller, D. L. (2011). Curriculum theory and practice: what’s your style? Phi Delta Kappan, (7), Retrieved from https://eds-b-ebscohost-com.ezp.waldenulibrary.org/eds/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=1&sid=016399a8-c4ae-4ae2-b14e-3ffd0040dd41%40sessionmgr102
Peart, N. (2019). The 12 most important skills you need to succeed at work. Forbes. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/nataliapeart/2019/09/10/the-12-most-important-skills-you-need-to-succeed-at-work/#6db50ce81c6a