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Curriculum Studies

Defining the Curriculum: histories and ethnographies

Subjects for Study: towards a social history of curriculum

The first point to recognize in Young et al. is the assumption in a number of the papers that subjects are monolithic. This would not seem a promising starting point from which to develop the theme that the curriculum is subject to patterns of control by dominant interest groups. The papers in the book reflect Bernstein's contention that 'how a society selects, classifies, distributes, transmits and evaluates the educational knowledge it considers to be public, reflects both the distribution of power and the principles of social control' (Bernstein, in Young, 1971, p. 47). Young likewise suggests that 'consideration of the assumptions underlying the selection and organisation of knowledge by those in positions of power may be fruitful perspective for raising sociological questions about curricula' (ibid., p. 3). The emphasis leads to general statements of the following kind:

Academic curricula in this country involve assumptions that some kinds and areas of knowledge are much more 'worthwhile' than others: that as soon as possible all knowledge should become specialised and with minimum explicit emphasis on the relations between the subjects specialised in and between specialist teachers involved. It may be useful, therefore, to view curricular changes as involving changing definitions of knowledge along one or more of the dimensions towards a less or more stratified, specialised and open organisation of knowledge.
Further, that as we assume some patterns of social relations associated with any curriculum, these changes will be resisted in so far as they are perceived to undermine the values, relative power and privileges of the dominant groups involved. (ibid., p. 34)

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' (ibid., p. 22). Later Young assures us that 'no direct control is implied here, but rather a process by which teachers legitimate their curricula through shared assumptions about "what we all know the universities want''' (ibid.). 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 socialised within an institutionalised 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 to homogeneous ability groups of children who show themselves most successful with such curricula. (ibid., p. 36)
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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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