Curriculum Studies

Curriculum studies (CS) is a concentration within curriculum and instruction concerned with understanding curricula as an active force of human educational experience.

Specific questions related to curriculum studies include the following:

  • What should be taught in schools?
  • Why should it be taught? To whom should it be taught?
  • What does it mean to be an educated person?

Proponents of CS also investigate the relationship between curriculum theory and educational practice and the relationship between school programs and the contours of the society and culture in which schools are located. There are programs in the field of curriculum studies in several Colleges of Education around the world. Curriculum Studies was also the first subdivision of the American Educational Research Association, known as Division B.

Important CS books include The Curriculum: Perspective, Paradigm, and Possibility by William Schubert (New York: Macmillan, 1986; and Understanding Curriculum by William Pinar, et al. (New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 1995).

Curriculum Studies emerged as a distinctive field in the late 1960s and early 1970s from educationists focused on curriculum development. The shift from developing and evaluating curriculum to understanding curriculum is known as the "Reconceptualization" of the curriculum field.

A branch of curriculum studies that investigates how society transmits culture from generation to generation has been tagged with the term “Hidden curriculum” even though much of what is studied is hiding in plain sight. For instance, one of the 19th Century founders of the discipline of Sociology, Émile Durkheim, observed that that more is taught and learned in schools than specified in the established curriculum of textbooks and teacher manuals. In Moral Education Durkheim wrote:

"In fact, there is a whole system of rules in the school that predetermine the child’s conduct. He must come to class regularly, he must arrive at a specified time and with an appropriate bearing and attitude. He must not disrupt things in class. He must have learned his lessons, done his homework, and have done so reasonably well, etc. There are, therefore, a host of obligations that the child is required to shoulder. Together they constitute the discipline of the school. It is through the practice of school discipline that we can inculcate the spirit of discipline in the child. (Durkheim, Émile (1961 ). Moral Education. New York, The Free Press.p. 148)"

Phillip W. Jackson (1968) may have coined the term “hidden curriculum” in his book Life in Classrooms. He argued that primary school emphasized specific skills: learning to wait quietly, exercising restraint, trying, completing work, keeping busy, cooperating, showing allegiance to both teachers and peers, being neat and punctual, and so on (Jackson, Philip (1968). Life in Classrooms.). The structural functional Structural functionalism sociologist Robert Dreeben (1968 On What is Learned in School) similarly concluded that the curriculum of schooling taught students to "form transient social relationships, submerge much of their personal identity, and accept the legitimacy of categorical treatment". Dreeben argued that formal schooling indirectly conveyed to students values such as independence and achievement, essential for their later membership in society.

Since then, Curriculum Studies researchers ranging across the spectrum of paradigms — from conservative structural-functionalists, to neo-Marxists to narrative- and arts-based researchers — have examined formal curricula, experienced curricula, and hidden curricula. Progressive researchers like Paul Willis (1977, Learning to Labor: How Working Class Kids Get Working Class Jobs), Jean Anyon (1980, "Social Class and the Hidden Curriculum of Work." Journal of Education 162), and Annette Laureau (1989.Home Advantage: Social Class, and Parental Intervention in Elementary Education) have examined the ways that hidden and overt curricula reproduce social class position. Narrative and arts-based researchers like Thomas Barone (2001, Touching Eternity: The Enduring Outcomes of Teaching) have inquired about the long-term effects of curricula on student lives.

Critical theorists like Henry Giroux (1983 "Theories of Reproduction and Resistance in the New Sociology of Education: A critical analysis." Harvard Educational Review 53) began to examine the roles of students and teachers in resisting curricula both official and hidden. So-called “resistance theorists” conceptualized students and teachers as active agents working to subvert, reject, or change curricula. They noted that “curriculum” was not a unified structure but incoherent conflicting and contradictory messages. Other researchers have examined the interactions between racial and ethnic cultures and the dominant curricula of the school. For instance the Anthropologist John Ogbu examined curricula established by African American students (Signithia Fordham and John Ogbu 1986 "Black Students’ School Success: Coping with the Burden of ’Acting White.’ The Urban Review18. Critical Race Theorists Critical race theory like Daniel Solórzano examined how racial attitudes constitute another “hidden” curriculum in teacher education programs (1997, Images and Words that Wound: Critical Race Theory and Racial Stereotyping, and Teacher Education, Teacher Education Quarterly, 24).

The interest in Curriculum Studies is thus cross disciplinary and of increasing importance to educational research and to the philosophy of education.

Read more about Curriculum StudiesUniversity Programs in Curriculum Studies

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University Programs in Curriculum Studies
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