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Curriculum Studies

Defining the Curriculum: histories and ethnographies

Subjects for Study: towards a social history of curriculum

3. A third hypothesis follows as one moves from consideration of the patterns of internal evolution in school subjects to investigation of the role that the pursuit of academic status plays in the relationship between subjects. In continuity with the second hypothesis we would expect established subjects to defend their own academic status at the same time as denying such status to any new subject contenders, particularly in the battle over new A-level examinations.

In the struggle, to launch environmental studies as an A-level subject, the geographers reacted strongly, and the biologists much more mildly, following the lines of the hypothesis. MacKinder, the founding father of geography's road to academic establishment, would have understood this. In explaining the geologists' opposition to geography, he saw their fear of the new subject making 'inroads in their classes' as the reason for 'their response and noted that 'even scientific folk are human, and such ideas must be taken into account' (MacKinder, 1913, in Williams, 1976, p. 5). In continuity with this, the geographers strongly opposed social studies, an integrated package that pre-dated environmental studies by several decades. The geographers, it was claimed, 'saw the new proposals as a threat to the integrity and status of their own subject' (Channon, 1964, in Williams, 1976, p. 112).

The growth of environmental studies was treated in similar manner by the geographers. The discussions of the Executive Committee of the Geographical Association show precious little concern with the intellectual or epistemological arguments for environmental studies. They focussed on 'the threat to geography involved in the growth of environmental studies'. Indeed, when the possibility of a dialogue with environmental studies teachers was suggested 'some members felt that to do so would be tantamount to admitting the validity of environmental studies' (Geographical Association, minutes, 1970). A plea for defence rather than dialogue came in the presidential address to the Geographical Association in 1973. Mr A. D. Nicholls laid great emphasis on the 'practical realities' for 'practising teachers'. With constant pressure on teaching time, headmasters arc ever searching for new space into which additional prestige subjects can be fitted, and the total loss of teaching time to environmental subject may be considerable.' Beyond these practical fears about the material interests of geography teachers, environmental studies evoked a particularly emotional response among geographers because of its proximity to geography's continuing identity crisis. Nicholls provides an unusually frank admission of the need for territorial defence being placed above any intellectual imperatives:

Ten years ago almost to the day and from this platform, Professor Kirk said 'modern geography was created by scholars, trained in other disciplines, asking themselves geographical questions and moving inwards in a community of problems; it could die by a reversal of the process whereby trained geographers moved outwards in a fragmentation of interests seeking solutions to non-geographical problems'. Might not this be prophetic for us today? Could it not all too soon prove disastrous if the trained teachers of geography moved outwards as teachers of environmental studies seeking solutions to non-geographical problems? (Nicholls, 1973, p. 201)
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Defining the Curriculum
  • Date of publication: 08/12/2011
  • Number of pages (as Word doc): 316
  • Publisher: Routledge
  • Co-author: Stephen Ball
  • Subject:
    Curriculum Studies
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  • Appears in:
    Defining the Curriculum: histories and ethnographies
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  • Price of e-book: $64.00
  • E-book ISBN: 978-0-203-81566-3
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