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Curriculum Studies, Selected Works

Learning, Curriculum and Life Politics: the selected works of Ivor F. Goodson

Becoming a School Subject

The process whereby the unspecified 'dominant groups' exercise control over other presumably subordinate groups is not scrutinized although certain hints are offered. We learn that a school's autonomy in curriculum matters 'is in practice extremely limited by the control of the sixth form (and therefore lower form) curricula by the universities, both through their entrance requirements and their domination of all but one of the school examination boards'. In a footnote, Young assures that no direct control is implied here, but rather a process by which teachers legitimate their curricula through their shared assumptions about 'what we all know the universities want'. This concentration on the teachers' socialization as the major agency of control is picked up elsewhere. We learn that:

The contemporary British educational system is dominated by academic curricula with a rigid stratification of knowledge. It follows that if teachers and children are socialized within an institutionalized structure which legitimates such assumptions, then for teachers high status (and rewards) will be associated with areas of the curriculum that are (1) formally assessed (2) taught to the 'ablest' children (3) taught in homogeneous ability groups of children who show themselves most successful within such curricula.

Young goes on to note that it 'should be fruitful to explore the syllabus construction of knowledge practitioners in terms of their efforts to enhance or maintain their academic legitimacy'.

Two papers by Bourdieu in Knowledge and Control summarize his considerable influence on English sociologists of knowledge. Unlike many of the other contributors to Knowledge and Control, Bourdieu has gone on to carry out empirical work to test his theoretical assertions. His recent work - through concentrated at university, not school, level - looks at the theme of reproduction through education and includes an important section on 'the examination within the structure and history of the educational system'. Young also has come to feel the need for historical approaches to test theories of knowledge and control. He wrote recently: 'one crucial way of reformulating and transcending the limits within which we work, is to see... how such limits are not given or fixed, but produced through the conflicting actions and interests of men in history'.

  1. ibid, p. 22.
  2. ibid, p. 36.
  3. Bourdieu, P. (1971) 'System of education and systems of thought, and intellectual field and creative project', in M.F.D. Young (Ed) Knowledge and Control: New Directions for the Sociology of Education, London: Collier Macmillan.
  4. Bourdieu, P. and Passeron, J.C. (1977) Reproduction in Education, Society and Culture, London: Sage.
  5. Young, M.F.D. (1977) 'Curriculum change: limits and possibilities', in M.F.D. Young and G. Whitty (Eds) Society, State and Schooling, Lewes: Falmer Press, pp. 248-249.
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  • Date of publication: 15/09/2005
  • Number of pages (as Word doc): 272
  • Publisher: Routledge
  • Subject:
    Curriculum Studies, Narrative Theory
  • Available in:
  • Appears in:
    Learning, Curriculum and Life Politics: the selected works of Ivor F. Goodson
  • Number of editions: 1
  • Paperback
  • Price of book: £27.99
  • ISBN: 978-0-415-35220-8
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