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Curriculum Studies, Selected Works

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

Nations at Risk

Ideology and Identity

Whilst a good deal of our curriculum study should be conducted, as in the case of the London Technical and Commercial High School, at the school and local level other historical work is required to examine wider initiatives of a national and even global scope. Here I focus on the phenomenon emergent in a number of countries of 'national curriculum'. My primary evidence is of the emergence of the national curriculum in the United Kingdom (UK)[i]: I focus on the antecedents to the national curriculum and the arguments and groups through which it has been promoted, the structures, rhetorical, financial and political, which have been established to support it, and finally the content, form, and pedagogical assumptions embedded within it.

As in other countries, the national curriculum debate in the UK has been precipitated by a widespread, and largely correct, perception that the nation is threatened by economic decline. Rhetorically then, the national curriculum is presented as a part of the project of economic regeneration. Behind this broad objective, however, two other projects can be discerned. Firstly, the reconstitution of older class-based British traditional subjects,[ii] and secondly, a reassertion of the ideology and control of the nation-state.

A good deal of recent historical work has furthered our understanding of the origins of state schooling and curriculum. The common feature uniting the wide range of initiatives by states to fund and manage mass schooling was, these scholars argue, the endeavour of constructing a national polity; the power of the nation-state, it was judged, would be unified through the participation of the state's subjects in national projects. Central in this socialization into national identity was the project of mass state schooling. The sequence followed by those states, promoting this national project of mass schooling, were strikingly similar. Initially there was the promulgation of a national interest in mass education. Legislation to make schooling compulsory for all followed. To organize the system of mass schools, state departments or ministries of education were formed. State authority was then exercised over all schools — both those 'autonomous' schools already existing and newly proliferating schools specifically organized or opened by the state.

If the central project behind the initiation of state schooling and state-prescribed curriculum was nation-building, this may partly explain the response to certain moral panics which are currently evident. Above all is the new sense of panic over the 'Nation at Risk', the title chosen for the major US report on education in 1983. The perception of national crisis is common among western nation-states. Often the matter is presented as essentially economic: certain nations (e.g., the USA) are falling behind certain other nations (e.g., Japan) in terms of economic prosperity. But behind this specific economic rationale lie a range of further more fundamental issues which render 'nations at risk' and develop general legitimation crises. The globalization of economic life, and more particularly of communications, information and technology, all pose enormous challenges to the existing modes of control and operation of nation-states. In this sense the pursuance of new centralized national curriculum might be seen as the response of the more economically-endangered species among nations. Britain provides an interesting case of this kind of response.

[i] I have employed the term ‘United Kingdom’ as a statement of a particular governmental aspiration towards national identity. In many ways it links with a broader project of privileging a particular form of ‘Englishness’ (a form with which I personally have no empathy or sympathy). In the event as the National Curriculum proceeds it is leading to a fragmented response in the different ‘kingdoms’ - Scotland for instance has managed to modify the testing requirements for the ‘National’ Curriculum.

[ii] Subjects here might be read in both senses, as we shall see, the institutionalised school subject and the subjectivities that those institutionalised subjects seek to implant and patrol.

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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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