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Curriculum Studies

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

On Curriculum Form

The Contest over Science

In the decades that followed, there were, of course, challenges to this ‘political settlement’ on levels of curriculum that corresponded so well to the gradations of society. Most notable was the battle over the inclusion of science. The perceived social danger of science, particularly applied science, was partly that education could be related to the cultural experience of the lower orders. There was knowledge that could be contextualised - not abstract, not classical, not quintessentially decontextualized but the opposite knowledge whose relevance and interest might be secured for the lower orders. For the masses, a possible educational medium was at the hand. Here, then, was a litmus test of the interestedness or disinterestedness of school knowledge. In the early 19th century, opinions on science had been clear. Thus, a ‘country gentleman’ judged in 1825 that:

if the working classes are to be taught the sciences, what are the middle and higher classes to learn, to preserve the due proportion?  The answer is obvious enough. There is nothing they can be taught by which they can maintain their superiority (quote in Shapin and Barnes 1976, p. 239).

In his early work, Mannheim thought science to be ‘disinterested knowledge,’ but science as school knowledge was plainly entirely another matter, much more a case of 'interested knowledge'.

The problems raised by ‘country gentleman’ grew in the period following 1825, for some successful experiments were underway to teach science to the working classes in the elementary schools. For instance, the Reverand Richard Dawes opened a National Society School in King's Somborne in England in 1842. Here he proceeded to teach science as applied to ‘the understanding of common things’. In short, he taught contextualised science, but with a view to develop the academic understanding of his pupils from the lower orders. Scientific knowledge, then, was contextualised within the culture and experience of the common people's children, but taught in a way that could open the door to understanding and the exercise of thought. This was schooling as education - and what is more, for the labouring poor. But the curriculum was limited to elementary schools with predominantly working class students. There is clear evidence in contemporary government reports, that the science of common things allowed considerable practical success in classrooms. One would be wrong, however, to assume therefore that the problem was solved and that the science of common things provided the basis for the definition of school science. Far from it. Other definitions of school science were being advocated by powerful interests. Lord Wrottesley chaired a Parliamentary Committee of the British Association for the Advancement of Science on the most appropriate type of science education for the upper classes. Hodson (1987, p. 36) argues that the report:

reflected a growing awareness of a serious problem: that science education at the elementary level was proving highly successful, particularly as far as the development of thinking skills was concerned, and the social hierarchy was under threat because there was not corresponding development for the higher order. 
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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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