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Curriculum Studies

Defining the Curriculum: histories and ethnographies

Subjects for Study: towards a social history of curriculum

2. The second hypothesis examined within the book relates to three major 'traditions' discerned in school subjects: the academic, the utilitarian and the pedagogic. As this has been dealt with in considerable detail in Becoming a School Subject I will provide only the briefest of commentaries. It was thought that an evolutionary profile of the school subjects under study would show a progressive movement away from stressing utilitarian and pedagogic versions of the subjects towards increasing promotion of more academic versions. We have already seen when discussing the nature of school subjects that sub-groups by representing new geography, 'hard science' biology and examinable environmental studies had come to be leading promoters of their subjects by the early b1970s. The process and rationale behind this outcome require fairly detailed understanding, representing as they do the culmination of a contest between a range of well-supported alternative definitions within each of the subjects.

The model of subject establishment towards a culminating 'academic' discipline was found to be closely applicable to both geography and biology. Once successfully promoted as an academic discipline the selection of the subject content is clearly considerably influenced 'by the judgement and practices of the specialist scholars in the field'. Subjects defined in this way, require a base of 'specialist scholars' working in universities to continue the definition and legitimation of disciplinary content.

The strategy for achieving this final stage received early recognition in geography. MacKinder's 1903 four-point plan provides an explicit statement of a subject aspiring to academic acceptance:

Firstly, we should encourage University schools of geography, where geographers can be made...
Secondly, we must persuade at any rate some secondary schools to place the geographical teaching of the whole school in the hands of one geographically trained master...
Thirdly, we must thrash out by discussion and experiment what is the best progressive method for common acceptation and upon that method we must base our scheme of examination.
Lastly, the examination papers must be set by practical geography teachers. (MacKinder, 1903)

The key to the strategy was the first point, the establishment of University schools of geography, where geographers can be made'. To complete the control of the subject's identity, geography teaching and examination construction were to be placed in the hands only of teachers 'made in the universities'. The mediation between university and school was in geography placed in the hands of the Geographical Association. The Association, founded in 1893, played a central role in the promotion of geography, since in its early days the subject was confined to idiosyncratic school-based versions and had obtained a tentative place in only a few universities.

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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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