History Of Theory Behind Curriculum Development
The evolution of curriculum theory by and large reflects the current of thought found in the academic-political landscape. The essence of the ancient maxim cuius regio, eius religio applies here: who reigns, his religion. In this case, who reigns, his curriculum. This has been true throughout all the centuries where education was deemed important by a group of individuals or a State. For example, in the West, the ancient Greeks (most notably Plato and Aristotle) devised a curriculum with the purpose of attaining knowledge and/or achieving "soundness" in the mind. Curricula are ever-tied to an aim -- and the objective of a curriculum may be ascertained by a review of what it contains or what its teachers hope to achieve. Therefore, the evolution of curriculum theory is related to the evolution of individual and societal objectives. Historically speaking, these objectives are manifest in every era and civilization and so how curriculum theory has changed can be discussed with some certainty. While it may be said that the "academic" study of curriculum theory did not begin until the 19th century, such a viewpoint is unhistorical if one looks at the evolution of curriculum over the centuries. As the focus and aims of education changed with social and political shifts (most radically in the modern era), one sees a decisive shift in curricula (with today's schools focusing on democratic education). There is, of course, a reason for these shifts and so too can an underlying theoretical approach to these shifts be identified. This paper will discuss the history of theory behind curriculum development and make a contribution to the curriculum conversation by drawing attention to the relationship between worldview, philosophy, and/or religion and the development of curriculum theory.
How Curriculum Theorists Answer the Question, "What Knowledge is of Most Worth?"
As Rorty (1997) observes, "We are changed by what we read," (p. 85), and it is the propagation and institutionalization of literature over recent centuries that has led to changes and developments in modern curriculum theory. The answer to the question, "What knowledge is of most worth?" may be found in the texts used by schools around the world, for these are the texts that educators deem important. Similarly, one may study the curricula of foremost universities in order to see what prevails as worthy knowledge. That answers the "what" of course but not the "how." To answer the "how" one must examine the evolution of curriculum theory, which is itself linked to the evolution of societal development. Neither the establishment of curricula nor the use of theory in the process is new to education. Even Jacotot, who asserted the Rousseauian principal of naturalism when he stated that his pupils "had learned by themselves, without a master explicator" (Ranciere, 1991, p. 11), was drawing upon a philosophical movement particularly popular in France in the 18th century. Jacotot's "method of the will" (Ranciere, 1991, p. 12) was a theory that grew out of the 18th and 19th century Romantic-Enlightenment approach to education, itself modeled upon Rousseau's theories as articulated in Emile and The Social Contract. It was, above all, a decisive break with the past and the Old World, or classical, system of learning. How it had become popular and how that sort of knowledge was deemed most important (by Ranciere in the 1990s) could be told by understanding the cultural movement of Europe in the centuries prior to (and following) Jacotot's revelation. The answer to the question, in fact, could even begin much earlier. "What knowledge is of most worth?" is essentially the same question that Socrates asked in the marketplace, and one should have no problem identifying him as an early curriculum theorist.
Indeed, the Greeks offer a suitable place to start. The very first recorded rhetorical treatise was written by Corax of Syracuse in 460 BC. The purpose of the treatise was to persuade Sicilian landowners to fight for property under dispute, and it may be said that all education, from Socratic...
As Adrian (1999) observes, "although techniques of persuasion had no doubt existed for as long as humans had lived together, this [attempt by Corax] was the first known attempt to codify its practice" (p. 12). A century after Corax, Aristotle composed his own treatise on rhetoric, and in a sense set down the foundational aspects of the classical model of curriculum theory: According to Aristotle, a good rhetorician applies himself to the discernment of truth, and persuades his audience by demonstrating the truth of what he speaks: "There are, then, these three means of effecting persuasion…(1) to reason logically, (2) to understand human character and goodness in their various forms, and (3) to understand the emotions" (Aristotle, 1904). The philosophical aim of the Greeks was attainment of the unum, bonum, verum -- the one, the good, the true -- or, in other words, transcendence. Contrasted with the modern aim of "democratic education," it might be argued that classical curricula had a loftier purpose -- or one that was at least less Statist. Quinn's (2011) association of learning with a poetic focus on the "self" and the "new" -- or the act of "becoming" (p. 1230) -- carries with it the typical non-classical, "new age" sense of "theory" that ultimately arrives at no conclusion about anything other than an ethereal or abstract notion that education is being and being is essence -- or, in other words, insubstantial drivel. In this milieu, one need only quote Derrida or Arendt to be taken seriously, a point which speaks volumes to the standards of curriculum theory exercised today -- a world of difference between the codified theory of classical education.
Aristotle essentially systematized the art of rhetoric by composing a five-step model of argumentation, which consisted of studying the art of invention, arrangement, style, memory, and delivery. Aside from this study, Aristotle also emphasized the artistic proofs of ethos (a consideration of the speaker), pathos (the audience), and logos (the subject) using the approaches of "cause and effect, possible or impossible, and greater or lesser" (Adrian, 1999). Thus theory for the Greek concept of curriculum was rooted in rhetoric and (for Aristotle) truth.
Contrasted with the theories of curriculum of the modern era, the classical conception may appear simplistic -- but it was this simplicity of the theory (so the Medieval world judged) that allowed for development of the mind via the usage of tools of rhetoric; and it was not until the denial of universals by William of Occam in the 14th century that these tools began to be discarded for a more subjectivist approach to learning (Weaver, 1984, p. 8). In essence, nothing changed -- only the aim. From the objective standard maintained by Socrates through to Aquinas, the Western world's achievements stemmed not from a focus on "self" but rather on a focus on the "other." The break from the Old World, effected by the moderns, turned the focus to the self -- so that in essence every modern (with a primary focus on self) became like Euthyphro -- Plato's representative of subjectivism, more recently represented by Quinn (2011). Subjectivism is essentially where modern theory begins, building on the doubt fostered by Occam centuries earlier and solidified by the fracturing and loss of philosophical and religious objectivity in the West following the Renaissance, the Reformation, and the Revolution. This subjectivism, moreover, has spread.
For instance, in 20th century China, Mao developed a theory of curriculum that was based on eradicating the schools of "foreign" ideologies for the purpose of turning all attention to his "self." His intent was to purge the realm of a mindset counter to his own will -- and in theory it was similar to the American "prison-school pipeline" curriculum, a system "reflective of networks of white privilege, which flow between institutions, such as education, the economy, and the law, and involve capitalizing on the misery of Blacks while simultaneously protecting white supremacy" (Martin, Fasching-Varner, Quinn, Jackson, 2014, p. 67). Mao aimed to preserve his supremacy at the expense of the Chinese citizen. His educational system aimed to inculcate in the youth a sense that he was the source of all good -- just as in America the aim of the "prison-school pipeline" is to inculcate in the youth a racist (and Puritanical) mentality that views Black misery as perpetual and of their own doing rather than as the outcome of an elitist system of governance. Were Aristotle to have a school today, he would likely assert that truth has been sacrificed on the altar of liberty in America -- a point which must be discussed more fully to appreciate "how" knowledge is deemed of most worth in modern curriculum theory.
Returning to the example of Mao's theory of curriculum, one sees how the modern dissociation from things "past" is connected to the modern enshrinement of "liberty" (a Revolutionary concept) and the focus on "self." Fitzgerald observes (1967), it…
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