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Curriculum Studies

Defining the Curriculum: histories and ethnographies

Subjects for Study: towards a social history of curriculum

The close linkage between the growth in schools and the establishment of the subject elicited regular comment in the pages of the Association's journal, Geography. The President of the Geographical Association paid homage to 'fruits of inspired teaching' which have led to the 'intense and remarkable upsurge in the demand to read our subject in the universities.' The result has been 'the recognition of our subject's status among university disciplines '"together with the costly provision made available for its study' (Garnett, 1969, p. 368). The latter point shows the direct link between academic status and resources in our educational system: the triumph of the 'academic' tradition over the utilitarian and pedagogic traditions which played such a prominent part in geography's early days can be partly understood in these terms.

The establishment of 'discipline' status inside the universities which had been so systematically pursued since MacKinder's 1903 proclamation provided for a range of material improvements in the subject's place within schools. In 1954 Honeybone could claim that 'at long last, geography is forcing its complete acceptance as a major discipline in universities, and that geographers are welcomed in to commerce, industry and the professions, because they are well educated men and women' (Honeybone, 1954, p. 186). From now on geography could claim its place in educating the most able children, and thereby become established as a well-funded department inside schools staffed with trained specialists on graded posts. By 1967 Marchant noted that geography was 'at last attaining to intellectual respectability in the academic streams of our secondary schools' (Marchant, 1968, p. 133). The battle was not quite over and he gave two instances where the subject was still undesirably taught as a 'less able' option. With the launching of new geography the subject finally attained total acceptance as an academic discipline in universities and as a fully-fledged A-level subject in all schools, with the resources and 'costly provisions' which such status attracts.

In biology the evolution of the subject is distinguishable from geography because from the beginning there was an associated and well-established university base in the form of botany and zoology. For this reason and also because from the outset the subject benefited from the side-effects of the influential science lobby, the task of subject promotion never totally resembled geography's 'beginning from scratch'. Biology's task was more to present a case for inclusion within the, by then well-established (and consequently well resourced), science area of the curriculum. This task was often pursued within the overall arena of the Science Masters Association, which from the 1930s onwards played an active role in promoting biology. In 1936 an influential biology sub-committee was formed to promote biology syllabuses, and many articles in the Association's School Science Review argued the case for biology's recognition as an examination subject for the able student. The problem was best voiced by the Ministry of Education in 1960: The place which is occupied by advanced biological studies in schools... is unfortunately that of vocational training rather than of an instrument of education.' The need to be seen as an instrument of education meant that the promoters of the subject had to move away from the utilitarian towards more academic versions - only then could an A-level subject command sufficient pupil numbers to warrant 'departmental' status and resources in schools. Hence we find the common theme being advocated: biology must be treated 'as a comprehensive discipline in its own right'.

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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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