The meaning of curriculum process

Whilst the kitchen is being removed from my home (and a new one is gradually installed) I started to notice some of the books I had forgotten I had. Dennis Child’s ‘Psychology and the Teacher’ (2007) caught my eye (partly because of how thick the book is). ‘The word curriculum is on everyone’s lips these days’ (477) he writes. I chuckled (to myself though the builder asked what I found funny) that yet again it’s on everyone’s lips (and in everyone’s tweets). It’s a good chapter on ‘The Curriculum Procress’ by Childs, as he reminds us of the transition from the pre-National Curriculum freedom to the present day. He reminds us of the process of curriculum (the intentional and unintentional) as well as what the curriculum might be including and how curricula (could) define the educational experiences. ‘The impact of psychology on curriculum process has been significant’ (479) and Childs goes on to define the three major theoretical positions (content, process and product-based curriculum). The content-based curriculum would ‘also include those who believe that passion on the common cultural heritage of our society from generation to generation should be a major, if not central, subject of the curriculum, and these ‘finest achievements (both artistic and scientific) (481)’ would shape the content. ‘Selecting our curriculum material from the upper reaches of our intellectual and artistic enterprises is elitist … it may offend those to whom any value distinctions are obnoxious but such people are both unreasonable and in the minority’ (22) writes Christopher Winch. He goes on to write that ‘if our curriculum material is to come from our intellectual and artistic traditions, then it will have to be chosen by those who know about such traditions. As the people with such expertise are typically found in those institutions who business is the study of such traditions, e.g. universities’.

In trying to select curriculum material for our children, i.e. all the children of the country, we have to be in a position where we can endorse – or reject – such choices. We can only do this if the choices and the reasons behind them are matters of public debate (Winch & Gingell 2004: 23)

Winch concludes his chapter on ‘culture and the curriculum’ by writing:

‘the curriculum must, by its very nature, draw upon the culture of the society for which it is a curriculum. But, if it is to be acceptable, it must do more than this. If it is to be a worthwhile curriculum it must involve making value choices as to what items of our culture should be included and what should be excluded… However… we must see it as work in progress and not make the mistake of believing that what we have at the moment is necessarily the best we might have’. (33)

There is so much to unpack from Winch’s writing (the preference for university-based expertise, the culture ‘of the society for which it is a curriculum’). Selecting content for a music curriculum equally causes contention as the choices are vast and with the interplay between music in and out of formal settings there can be a tension of ‘whose’ music are we putting in a curriculum (and why).

There was a ‘significant change in content and intentions’ (Horsley in Schmidt & Colwell 2017) in the revisions to the Music National Curriculum in 2013 which ’emphasises music appreciation and performance over music creation, and reference to integrated music learning has vanished. Emphasis is much more on discrete (and thus more easily assessable) performance, listening, and recall/musical recognition skills’ (163). With the abolition of the consultative structures that would have enabled the public debate Winch says is necessary for a curriculum for ‘all children’, the dissenting voices of the 2013 changes to the Music National Curriculum were not able to contribute to policymaking. Horsley (in Schmidt & Colwell 2017) suggests ‘music educators should have a basic understanding of the nature of political discourse and how it is used to create perceived legitimacy crises that support the introduction of policy based on the ideology of elected officials’ and ‘they should also be familiar with the broader policy cycles both in education and music education that have occurred’ (168). Horsley stresses that ‘education is part of a wider political and social project; therefore it is imperative that those who are involved in it do not let their voices be silenced’ (170).

In cases where the organisational processes of curriculum reform shut out the expertise of music teachers and their knowledge of their students and schools (either officially or through obscuring the policy reform process), teachers should not hesitate to make this known to the broader public in order to draw attention to the need for policymakers to be accountable to the ways in which they develop policy that affects society (170).

I started out wanting to reflect on the curriculum process (via Child’s ‘Psychology and the Teacher’ but ended up being reminded of elitism in choosing the ‘great’ works by Winch and then the need to be politically informed by Horsley to ensure your voice as a music educator is heard. Despite the controversy a model music curriculum has instilled for many, I am reminded by Winch that ‘we must see it as work in progress and not make the mistake of believing that what we have at the moment is necessarily the best we might have’. I’d like to think any curriculum model will be open to ‘public debate’ and acknowledges the ‘expertise of music teachers and their knowledge of their students and schools’.

Amidst the drilling going on in the kitchen and discovery of gas pipes (seems there used to be gas cooking before the ceramic hob) I’ve been reading Will Storr’s ‘The Science of Storytelling’. I am starting to think designing a curriculum is like being a storyteller. Storytellers ‘create moments of unexpected change that seize the attention of their protagonists and, by extension, their readers and viewers. Those who’ve tried to unravel the secrets of story have long known about the significance of change’ (Storr 2019: 13). Storr writes about the unexpected changes that propel stories but also tells us that ‘most of the unexpected changes we react to will turn out to be of no importance: the bang was just a lorry door; it wasn’t your name, it was a mother calling her child… But, every now and then, that change matters. It forces us to act. This is when story begins’ (17). Every now and then some music matters and it forces us to listen (or respond?). This is when (and where) our curriculum design could begin.

References

Child, D., 1973. Psychology and the Teacher.

Gingell, J., Winch, C. (2004). Philosophy and Educational Policy. London: Routledge, https://doi.org/10.4324/9780203465431

Schmidt, P., and Colwell, R., eds., Policy and the Political Life of Music Education (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017)

Storr, W., 2019. The Science of Storytelling.

 

 

 

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