Rethinking Curriculum and Teaching
Summary and Keywords
In academic literature there is a multiplicity and proliferation of alternative curriculum definitions, and the matter of defining curriculum is in a state of disarray. Likewise, there are diverse ways of defining teaching in which curriculum is virtually invisible. Invoking Dewey’s idea of “reality as whole,” this article makes a case for rethinking curriculum and teaching as two interrelated concepts embedded in the societal, institutional, and instructional contexts of schooling. Curriculum is construed in terms of societal, policy, programmatic, and classroom curricula that give social meaning, normative and operational frameworks, and educational quality to the practice of teaching. Likewise, teaching is thought of as sociocultural, institutional, deliberative and curricular practice with a bearing on the societal, policy, programmatic, and classroom curricula. The article concludes by questioning the technicist and reductionist treatment of curriculum and teaching associated with the global neo-liberal movement toward standards and accountability and by calling for reenvisioning curriculum and teaching in view of the educational challenges of the 21st century.
Perhaps no concepts are more fundamental to understanding the work of schools than “curriculum” and “teaching.” In educational practice the term curriculum usually refers to what is taught in schools in terms of programs, courses of study, or school subjects for teaching in classrooms. Teaching, on the other hand, means methods, techniques, or strategies through which a curriculum is conveyed to students. As such, curriculum and teaching are interrelated; an understanding of one requires an understanding of the other. As Walter Doyle observed over two decades ago,
[A] curriculum is intended to frame or guide teaching practice and cannot be achieved except during acts of teaching. Similarly, teaching is always about something so it cannot escape curriculum, and teaching practices, in themselves, imply curricular assumptions and consequences. It is difficult, therefore, to avoid stumbling on curriculum when one is trying to understand teaching, or commenting on pedagogy when one is deliberating about curriculum.1
However, in the educational research community curriculum and teaching are defined as if they were independent. In curriculum literature there is a proliferation and multiplicity of alternative curriculum definitions that are largely independent of teaching practice. Likewise, in the literature on teaching and teacher education there are diverse ways of defining teaching in which curriculum is virtually invisible. Furthermore, in these two bodies of literature curriculum and teaching are often discussed as if they were independent of social and institutional contexts of schooling.
This article tackles the issues and problems in defining curriculum and teaching in academic literature and, in so doing, makes a case for rethinking curriculum and teaching. The article begins by briefly reviewing major scholarly efforts to define—or redefine—curriculum and teaching and identifying inherent issues and problems associated with such efforts. Next John Dewey’s idea of reality as a whole will be discussed and applied as a basis for rethinking curriculum and teaching within the social, institutional, and instructional contexts of schooling. The article concludes by questioning the technicist and reductionist treatment of curriculum and teaching associated with the current global neo-liberal movement toward standards and accountability and by calling for reenvisioning curriculum and teaching in light of the educational challenges of the 21st century.
To be clear, this paper only deals with curriculum and teaching in a school or school system. There is, of course, a curriculum outside a school system, called the societal curriculum by Cortes, referring to “[the] massive, ongoing, informal curriculum of family, peer groups, neighbourhoods, churches, organizations, occupations, mass, media and other socializing forces that ‘educate’ all of us throughout.”2 Likewise, teaching takes place outside the walls of schooling as an institution, in families, in neighborhoods, in churches, in organizations, in occupations, in social media, and so forth; teaching of this kind is called public pedagogy.3 Both the societal curriculum (as defined by Cortes) and public pedagogy will not be discussed in this article.
Defining Curriculum and Teaching: Issues and Problems
In dictionaries and common usage curriculum is relatively simple, referring to a course of study, a program, and so forth. However, in curriculum literature, curriculum definitions are highly complex and contentious; there is a multiplicity and proliferation of alternative definitions and the matter of defining curriculum is in a state of “disarray.”4 Below I consider several key alternative definitions largely in a chronological order, representing major scholarly efforts in the United States to redefine curriculum and some important changes in the orientation of curriculum theory.
1. [Curriculum] is continuous reconstruction, moving the child’s present experience out into that presented by the organized bodies of truth that we call studies (Dewey, 1990).
2. Curriculum may, therefore, be defined in two ways: (1) the entire range of experiences, but directed and undirected, concerned in unfolding the abilities of the individual; (2) or the series of consciously directed training experiences that the schools use for completing and perfecting the unfoldment (Bobbitt, 1918).
3. [Curriculum is] is all the learning experiences planned and directed by the school to attain its educational goals (Tyler, 1949).
4. Curriculum is a sequence of content units arranged in such a way that learning of each unit may be accomplished as a single act, provided the capacities described by specific prior units (in the sequence) have already been mastered by the learner (Gagné, 1967).
5. [Curriculum is] all planned outcomes for which school is responsible (Popham & Baker, 1970).
6. The method of currere—the infinitive form of curriculum—promises no quick fixes … this autobiographical method asks us to slow down, to remember even reenter the past, and to meditatively imagine the future. Then, slowly and in one’s own terms, one analyzes one’s experience of the past and fantasies of the future in order to understand more fully, with more complexity and subtlety, one’s submergence in the present (Pinar, 2004, p. 4).
7. The curriculum is never simply a neutral assemblage of knowledge, somehow appearing in the texts and classrooms of a nation. It is always part of a selective tradition, someone’s selection, some group’s vision of legitimate knowledge. It is produced out of the cultural, political, and economic conflicts, tensions, and compromises that organize and disorganize a people (Apple, 1993).
This sample of definitions shows different ways of thinking about curriculum among different scholars. Three definitions (3, 4, and 5) are in ordinary terms of planning, outcomes of schooling, and subject matter or content. In contrast, four (1, 2, 6, and 7) have no bearing on such terms at all. One definition (6) stresses what happens within the personal, private activity and experience. Another one (7) focuses on the social and political issues of content selection. All these definitions do not seem to have an explicit connection with the practice of teaching.
In the scholarly community, there is now a wide acceptance of the notion of curriculum as a variety of human experience. In what is now a classic essay, “Conceptions of curriculum and curriculum specialists,” Philip Jackson (b. 1928–d. 2015) analyzed the major shifts in curriculum definition—first initiated by John Dewey (b. 1859–d. 1952) and then expanded by Franklin Bobbitt (b. 1876–d. 1956) and others—and, in so doing, provided a way of “getting rid of definitional confusion.”5 The conventional definition, Jackson observed, is associated with the establishment of the organizational structure of schooling in the 16th century and the subsequent need for administrative control over what was taught. Later (alternative) definitions represent efforts to redefine the conventional meaning of curriculum. By introducing learners’ experience into the definition, Dewey expanded the traditional definition to one that encompasses those experiences arranged and organized for educative purposes in a school or classroom (definition 1). In so doing, Dewey in effect advocated that a teacher is a curriculum maker—“a planner and manager of educational experience.”6 Later on, building on Dewey’s notion of curriculum as educative experience, Bobbitt extended the customary notion to include experiences in school and outside of school, directed and undirected. This more encompassing notion lends support to an argument about the existence of a variety of out-of-school curricula—provided by families, churches, synagogues, and so forth. Therefore, a curriculum definition, Jackson argued, involves an argument: those who offer an alternative defintion “are putting forward an argument of some kind in which their preferred definition plays a part.”7 With regard to the confusion created by the multiplicity of alternative curriculum definitions, he suggested that one should not try to determine which definition is “right” or “wrong” but ask such key questions as: “[W]hat purposes does such definition serve? Why is it being put forward and who stands to gain when adopting it? What would be the consequences of doing so?”8
Jackson’s way out of definitional confusion, while provocative and revealing, is academic and discursive in orientation, focusing on how different definitions “yield quite different ways of acting on or thinking about the curriculum.”9 It makes perfect sense in the educational academic community where a diversity of perspectives and ways of thinking is celebrated and embraced. However, his suggestion has rather limited value in the actual world of curriculum practice as no reliable basis is provided for making any judgment on definitions to distinguish between those that “make sense” and those that do not “make sense.” In real world practice a curriculum definition is not merely a discursive argument; there exists the reality of schools and classrooms to which all definitions seek to conform and account for.
It is worth noting that the shift toward defining curriculum as a variety of experience today reflects a significant change in the orientation of curriculum theory. The conventional curriculum definition is inextricably associated with traditional curriculum theory (associated with Bobbitt and Tyler) centrally concerned with the making of a course of study or program—a technological and rationalistic undertaking characterized by a series of techniques (concerning goal/objective formation, content selection and organization, assessment and evaluation) and models and frameworks based on scientific research and analysis.10 With an increasing adherence to a notion of curriculum as various kinds of human experience, much contemporary curriculum theorists move away from curriculum development to what is called curriculum understanding—directed toward the “interdisciplinary study of educational experience” centered around issues of subjectivity, identity, agency, gender, culture, and so forth.11
Like curriculum, teaching in dictionaries and common usage is rather simple, with two major uses. As a verb, it refers to activities of “showing the way; direction, guidance” and “the imparting of instruction or knowledge.” As a noun, it denotes “the occupation or function of a teacher.”12 Yet in academic literature the meaning of teaching is relatively complex and has been an important topic of educational inquiry. Two types of attempts to clarify the meaning of teaching—one made in the 1960s and 1970s and the other in the 1980s and afterward—can be identified.
The efforts in the 1960s and 1970s were notably made by educational philosophers, with a focus on the meaning of teaching in the activity sense. Curriculum theorist B. O. Smith (b. 1903–d. 1989) identified five definitions resulting from the efforts.13
1. Descriptive definition: teaching as imparting knowledge or skill.
The descriptive definition derives connotations from previous uses of the term “teaching” or “teach” over the history. In addition to the contemporary meaning of “imparting knowledge or skill,” to teach means “to show someone something through signs or symbols; to use signs or symbols to evoke responses about events, persons, observations, findings, and so forth.” To teach also refers to “to give information; to show a person how to do something; to give reasons in a subject.”14
2. Success definition: teaching entails learning.
The success notion signifies the intertwined nature of teaching and learning. Teaching means “not merely that some interaction is taking place, but also that the learner is acquiring what is being taught.”15 This notion was in fact advocated by John Dewey, who likened the relationship between teaching and learning to that between selling and buying. However, such a notion was challenged by philosophers. Making a distinction between teaching as an achievement word and as a task word, they argued that teaching, when described in the task sense, does not necessarily implicate learning.16 Like the activities of racing and traveling, teaching does not necessarily lead to a successful outcome; it can be said to be performed effectively or ineffectively, skillfully or unskillfully.17
3. Intentional definition: teaching as an intentional activity.
The intentional definition holds that for an activity to be considered teaching, it must be an intentional activity aimed at bringing about learning.18 The activities of teaching are guided by the intention of a teacher and grounded in his or her belief system and modes of thinking.19 Such a notion underpins much empirical studies on teacher thinking notably in the 1970s and 1980s.20
4. Normative definition: teaching as a normative activity.
This notion concerns the normative conditions of teaching which can pertain to the “worthwhileness” of what is taught. According to Richard Peters, education involves “initiation of others into worthwhile activities.”21 And teaching plays a central role in the initiation process by helping students acquire a body of worthwhile knowledge, skills, and attitudes necessary for participating in such activities. The normative conditions can also refer to the manner in which teaching is conducted which, Peters argued, needs to be “morally acceptable.”22 These normative conditions set teaching apart from other activities such as conditioning and indoctrination, and brainwashing.23
5. Scientific definition: teaching defined in technical and scientific terms
The scientific definition defines the activities teaching in technical terms such as “competency,” “performance,” and “effectiveness” and empirically verifiable statements. As such, this definition “brings our thinking closer to the observable and manipulatory level of experience than is possible by classical form of definition where one abstract term is defined by reference to other abstract terms.”24
Overall, the efforts in the 1960s and 1970s are largely analytic; scholars “have centered on exploration of various facets of the concept of teaching rather than on the formulation of explicit definitions.”25 This is understandable given that the task of educational philosophers is to articulate a generic definition upon which others can build upon and further elaborate the meaning of teaching.26
Further elaborations of some of these definitions are seen in the 1980s and afterward. The intentional definition was articulated by Fenstermacher as involving five features:
1. There is a person, P, who possesses some
2. content, C, and who
3. intends to convey or impart C to
4. a person, R, who initially lacks C, such that
5. P and R engage in a relationship for the purpose of S’s acquiring C.27
Later on, this definition, after a slight modification, was employed as an essential point of departure for discussing what “quality teaching” entails in the mid-2000s 28
The normative definition was further articulated by educational theorists to encompass other important aspects. Educational philosophers, notably Jane Roland Martin, Nel Noddings, and Susan Laird, called attention to the emotional and ethical development of individuals as an educational aim. It is argued that apart from passing on a body of knowledge and skills to students, the practice of teaching involves instructing students how to feel and respond to one another, developing empathy and ability to listen, and building caring human relationships.29 Applying the Pinarian method of currere (see curriculum definition 6) to classroom situations, some curriculum scholars contend that teaching involves listening to individual voices, taking advantage of their unique interests and questions, facilitating their personalized journeys of understanding, and creating opportunities for them to discover themselves and others.30 Furthermore, critical curriculum theorists extend the conversation on the meaning of teaching to include issues of powers, politics, race, class, and gender in social and cultural orders. It is argued that good teaching entails raising the consciousness of individuals, helping them recognize hegemonic tendencies and the work of power, challenging them to reconstruct themselves so that they can contribute to the reconstruction of society.31
Taken together, earlier analytic-oriented clarifications and later more explicit normative formulations have contributed to a more sophisticated, multidimensional understanding of the nature of teaching as activities. However, in all these attempts (except the last one concerning the political and social nature of teaching) there is a tendency to overlook the social and institutional contexts in which teaching is embedded and takes place and the (institutional) curriculum that, as indicated earlier, is intended to frame and guide teaching. Such a tendency is in fact prevalent in the academic literature on teaching and teacher education. In a recent article, Connelly observed that that literature is “virtually devoid of curriculum policy discussion” and marked by an escape from the social and cultural landscape of schooling as an institution.32
In summary, the above brief review of major scholarly efforts to define curriculum and teaching shows that curriculum and teaching tend to be treated as two independent and separate constructs largely independent of the social and institutional contexts of schooling. What might the social and institutional contexts of schooling have to say about the meaning of curriculum and teaching? How might the relationship between curriculum and teaching be reconceived? I now turn to Dewey’s idea of reality as a whole.
Dewey’s Idea of Reality as a Whole
From Dewey’s perspective, the analytic approach as typified in physical sciences—also as the one employed by educational philosophers in the 1960s and 1970s—is not adequate when applied to reality where internal relationships are found.33 Such reality needs to be seen as an “organic whole” and cannot be reduced to isolated parts or elements. Parts cannot be understood if considered in isolation from the whole. In other words, parts must be seen in context, as constituents of the total “field” or “situation.”34 Sometimes called context, reality as a whole is used as an essential vantage point from which to observe and interpret complex educational issues and to clarify confusions.35 To tackle complex educational issues, one needs to locate what is essential not in parts or elements but in reality as a whole.
With respect to school education, this way of thinking is exemplified in The Educational Situation: As Concerns the Elementary School. In this small booklet Dewey tackled the critical issue of why, in spite of reform efforts, those “new studies” (organized according to the interest and experience of students) failed to take root in the school curriculum. He called attention to the reality that is not only “found in the personal and face-to-face contact of teacher and child” but also deeply embedded in the institutional context of schooling—constituted by school organizational structures, administration mechanism, curriculum standards, expectations, frameworks, and so forth. Dewey argued that it is these various layers of the institutional context that “do not lend themselves to realizing the purposes of the newer studies.”36
Applied Dewey’s idea to our discussion, curriculum and teaching need to be seen as embedded not only in the instructional context of a classroom but also in the institutional context of schooling. The institutional context, in turn, needs to be seen as embedded in the social and cultural context surrounding the institution of schooling. Therefore, taken as a whole, the reality of schools and classrooms is constituted by the three layers of context: the social, the institutional, and the instructional, in which curriculum and teaching are embedded and function.
• social context (political and social structures and larger social and political forces that shape the school curriculum; histories and traditions that are essential for making sense of what education is; values and norms that inform and shape a society’s views of education, schooling, teaching and learning; social surround of family, community, and peer culture that influences and supports practice in schools and classrooms);
• institutional context (national, state, and international policies that define education in a society and curriculum policies that prescribe or proscribe what is taught and how; institutional categories such as school types, grade levels, programs, school subjects assessment, and examination requirements that organize, structure, or regulate practice; teacher education, professional development, and curriculum resources that support practice); and
• instructional context (classrooms, labs and informal places where teaching and learning take place; school structures and culture of teaching; the experience, background, and competences of teachers; the experience, interaction, and learning of the individual students; student’s attitudes, background, and characteristics). 37
These three layers of context, each with sublayers, are interrelated and intersecting; they together constitute the reality of schooling as a whole—a necessary foundation on which to make sense of curriculum and teaching. These three contextual layers also provide a powerful frame of reference for sorting out the diversity of the definitions of curriculum and teaching and for making sense of the diverse ways of thinking about curriculum and teaching in the educational academic community.
Before proceeding, it is important to note that with respect to the meanings of curriculum and teaching, this article is informed by the deliberative tradition of curriculum theory—associated with Joseph Schwab (b. 1961–d. 1987), Michael Connelly, Ian Westbury, and William Reid (b. 1933–d. 2015), among others—that is rooted in Aristotelian philosophy. 38 Like traditional curriculum theory, the deliberative tradition is centrally concerned with curriculum making—including curriculum policymaking, curriculum development, classroom enactment or classroom teaching—with the intention to improve the work of schooling as an institution. Unlike traditional curriculum theory, however, this tradition construes curriculum making as a practical and deliberative endeavor—rather than a technological and rationalistic undertaking. Curriculum making is viewed as entailing deliberative decision-making characterized by a dynamic and balanced consideration of the four curriculum commonplaces—teachers, students, subject matter, and milieu—animated and informed by a vision of what it means to be educated.39 Such an approach can be applied to all levels of curriculum making—including policymaking, program development, and classroom practice. 40
Curriculum exists in many levels, in society, in policies and programs, and in schools and classrooms. Three broad curricula, the societal, the institutional (including the policy and the programmatic), and the classroom, are identified, respectively, which in varying ways have an inextricable bearing on the practice of teaching.
The societal curriculum, also called the “curriculum as an idea,” is embedded in a set of beliefs and expectations about what schools are for shared within a society.41 As public institutions, schools in the United States are expected to produce citizens for a democratic society, prepare people for the job market, and provide people with opportunities for career and social advancement.42 Beliefs and expectations as such are shaped by the histories and traditions as well as the social and organizational structure of schooling in a country; they are embedded in public consciousness apart from the actual arrangement and structure of the institution of schooling.43 They imply what is to be valued and sought after by members of a society, carrying social meaning for the work of teachers in schools.44 Such beliefs and expectations (i.e., the societal curriculum) can be bought to bear on the practice of teaching in a classroom. 45
This curriculum is the arena where many alternative curriculum definitions—such as curriculum as currere (definition 6) and as social and political construct (definition 7)—are put forward in debate and discussion. However, notwithstanding important ways of thinking about the curriculum, alternative definitions as such do not or cannot directly influence the institutional curriculum; they “should be seen as a rhetorical form that seeks to stake out positions in the ideological space around the school.” 46
The institutional curriculum, the curriculum provided to a school or school system, is further differentiated into the policy and programmatic curricula. Embodied in educational policies and discourses, the policy curriculum translates the society’s beliefs and expectations for schooling into a normative framework for curriculum making. It defines the relation between schooling and both culture and society and frames what should be going on in schools in terms of goals, outcomes, and general approaches to teaching and learning. As a normative framework, the policy curriculum supposedly serves to steer the work of schooling; it is often used for judging the quality of teaching in classrooms.47
The programmatic curriculum consists of programs, courses of study, and school subjects provided to a school system (including school types or tracks), reflecting a translation of the expectations and goals in the policy curriculum into concrete forms for uses in schools and classrooms. These programs, courses of study, and school subjects constitute an organizational framework in which a school system operates and functions, serving to regulate and manage the work of teachers in classrooms.48 At the heart of the programmatic curriculum (making) are curriculum issues concerning the selection, organization, and sequencing of content for teaching and learning in classrooms. As an essential unit of the programmatic curriculum, a school subject embodies a theory of content—that is, a particular way of selecting, organizing, sequencing, and framing content—which links content to both the expectations and goals in the policy curriculum and the (intended) activities of teaching and learning in classrooms.49 As the embodiments of school subjects, curriculum texts and materials are supposed to guide what will happen in classrooms and serve as an important resource for the construction of classroom lessons and events.50
Obviously, the institutional curriculum is the arena where conventional curriculum connotations such as a course of study, outcomes of schooling (definition 5), the organization and sequence of content (definition 4) find referents and meaning. It is also the arena where formalized curriculum making (curriculum policymaking, curriculum planning and development) finds legitimacy and significance.
The classroom curriculum, or the enacted curriculum, takes the form of instructional events jointly developed by a teacher and a group of students within a particular classroom. These events are curricular because they involve content in the form of curriculum texts that is to be interpreted and acted on toward certain educational purposes. They result from the teacher’s transformation of what is in the programmatic curriculum into “educative” experiences for a group of students in a specific classroom.51 It is this curriculum that directly determines the quality and outcome of classroom teaching.52
The enacted curriculum is also called “an evolving construction”53 or “curriculum in use.”54 It can take place outside classroom settings (school libraries, canteens, assembly halls, etc.). At the school/classroom level, there are the achieved curriculum (the knowledge and skills acquired by students) and implicit or hidden curriculum (the values, attitudes, and concepts that are taught and communicated by schools through the structure and the behavior of school staff).55
In summary, grounded in the reality of schooling, the societal, institutional, and classroom curricula constitute three broad curriculum domains in which a variety of curriculum definitions in literature find their loci and meanings. As such, a curriculum definition contains not merely an argument as claimed by Jackson; a meaningful definition must have a bearing on the reality of schooling. The multiplicity of curricular definitions exists in part because curriculum discourse and process operate in different arenas of the reality.
It should be noted that parsing curriculum into several realms of discourse and practice in view of the reality of schooling is found in a body of “traditional” curriculum literature—concerned with curriculum making. According to Goodlad et al. curriculum (decision) in the United States is “made” at indifferent places of the system: in government departments of education, in boards of education, and in schools.56 In the European context, curriculum work is divided into a policy discourse (centered on the establishment of a framework for curriculum planning and implementation at the national or state level), a programmatic discourse (centered on the development of the concrete curriculum such as a curriculum guideline), and a practical discourse (centered on the local planning and enactment of lessons). These three types of curriculum discourse form the principal model of curriculum making, which has a history starting back in the late 19th century.57 Underpinning such a “realistic” way of thinking about curriculum are a recognition of the constructive role of the institution of schooling in society (pertaining to economic development, nation building, social cohesion, and so forth) and of the need of curriculum specialists and teachers to work with the existing institution of schooling for the advancement of education in a society. Such a perspective on the institution of schooling is implicated in the deliberative tradition of curriculum theory noted above.58
Nevertheless, in contemporary literature curriculum can take on rather different meanings when a different perspective is taken on the institution of schooling. Neo-Marxist critical curriculum theorists view schooling as predominantly a mechanism for reproducing existing social and economic inequalities and curriculum, and therefore is a social and political construct reflecting the interest, ideology of those who hold power,59 as reflected in definition 7. Likewise, curriculum re-conceptualist theorists tend to see the institution of schooling as an obstacle to the personal development of individual students. Moving away from a concern for the institutional curriculum, they construe curriculum in terms of personal experience having to do with subjectivity, identity, agency, gender, culture and so forth,60 as implied in definition 6.
Like curriculum, teaching needs to be thought of within the societal, institutional, and instructional contexts of schooling. It needs to be seen as a sociocultural, institutional, deliberative, and curricular practice with an inextricable bearing on the societal, policy, programmatic, and classroom curricula.
Classroom teaching is a sociocultural practice in that it occurs within a society and culture. Teaching, like all social practice, is informed by cultural ideals, norms, and values that have implications for issues of power, authority, and control.61 It is shaped by cultural beliefs and assumptions about the nature of knowledge, teaching, and learning within a society.62 Classroom teaching is also influenced by a set of expectations and beliefs about schooling shared within a society—that is, by the societal curriculum—that often have to do with the public goods of schooling as an institution.63 Teachers have to respond to such expectations and beliefs since they are expected to be concerned with public goods when carrying out instructional activities in classrooms.64
Teaching is also an institutionalized practice that occurs within a particular context of educational policy and accountability in a school system or district. At the institutional level, the social meaning of teaching is explicitly defined by means of the policy curriculum—in terms of a social conception and purposes of schooling.65 Furthermore, teaching is institutionalized in the sense that it is practically embedded in the institution of schooling that regulates and supports the activities of teaching. This is achieved by means of institutional categories such as school types, grades/levels, school subjects, schedules, groupings, roles, promotions, assessment requirements, and so on.66 Among such categories, teaching is not least framed by school subjects—organizing units of the programmatic curriculum. School subjects constitute the “locus” of classroom teaching; they frame the pedagogical practice and perspectives of classroom teachers.67 A school subject, with a theory of content mentioned earlier, serves to frame how teaching should be conducted in classrooms.68
In classrooms, teaching is a deliberative and curricular practice. A teacher works with specific content, specific students, and specific materials in a specific classroom context; the work of teaching calls for deliberative decision making to tackle specific issues and problems, with a concern for the growth of students.69 A teacher is a curriculum maker because he or she interprets and transforms the programmatic curriculum into learning experiences using his or her personal practical knowledge, in consideration of curriculum commonplaces—the teacher or self, students, subject matter, and milieu.70 In a classroom teaching and curriculum become inextricably merged and integrated. Instructional events are curricular because they are “occasions” in which students encounter “texts” (embodiments of content) that need to be interpreted and enacted.71 To plan and orchestrate such events, a teacher interprets and transforms the content of a school subject—more precisely, a theory of content—within the framework of the policy and programmatic curriculum in a classroom.72 As such, a teacher is curriculum theorist. Doyle explained:
Teaching is, at its core, an interpretive process grounded in conceptions of what one is teaching and what value that content has for students and society. And the choices that teachers make with respect to their content have enormous consequences for the lives of students and the health of the society. To teach effectively, teachers much be responsible curriculum theorists.73
Much like the thinking on curriculum presented earlier, this way of thinking about teaching is informed by the deliberative tradition of curriculum theory. The image of teaching advanced in this article recognizes that teachers work within a conception of public goods shared in a society and culture, within an organizational framework of schooling as a public institution, and within the immediate and specific context of a classroom.74 From this perspective, teachers are representatives of “an institutional endeavor to advance, on behalf of students and of society at large, a civic interest” embedded in the societal curriculum.75
Nevertheless, a different perspective on the role of the institution of schooling would lead to a different way of thinking about classroom teaching. Seeing the institution as a vehicle for reproducing existing social and economic inequalities, neo-Marxist critical curriculum theorists construe classroom teaching as a context for legitimating and reproducing social relations of dominance and subordination.76 “Good” teaching, therefore, needs to contribute to subverting the hegemonic “power” of the institutional curriculum and using classroom encounters as a means of consciousness raising and agentic development as noted earlier.77 Likewise, viewing the institution of schooling as a hindrance to students’ meaningful personal growth, curriculum re-conceptualist scholars construe teaching within a domestic, private realm, in terms of personal journeys, individual voices, individual interests, and so forth,78 as somehow reflected in the Pinarian articulation of teaching introduced above.
Toward Reenvisioning Curriculum and Teaching
This article concerns the various ways of defining curriculum and teaching in academic literature that tend to overlook the social and institutional realities of schools and treat curriculum and teaching as largely separate entities. It makes a case for rethinking curriculum and teaching as two interrelated concepts embedded in the social, institutional, and instructional contexts of schools and classrooms. Curriculum is construed in terms of societal, policy, programmatic, and classroom curricula that give social meaning, normative and operational frameworks, and educational quality to the practice of teaching. Teaching, in turn, is thought of as inextricably intertwined with these four curricula in varying ways.
This rethinking is extremely timely and important in light of the global neoliberal movement toward academic standards and accountability that leads to a reductionist and technicist treatment of curriculum and teaching across the policy, programmatic, and classroom arenas. 79 This is particularly evident in the United States, where two major educational laws, first the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) act and then Race to the Top program, have been implemented over the last fifteen years. At the policy level, the curriculum takes the form of academic standards directed toward the improvement of students’ academic achievement measured by high-stakes standardized testing. A social conception of schooling is literally nonexistent and, as a result, the social meaning of classroom teaching is reduced to promoting students’ academic achievement.80 At the programmatic level, the curriculum takes the form of scripted programs, together with prepackaged curricular materials, that serve to regulate and steer classroom practice toward promoting academic achievement.81 Curriculum issues of content selection, organization, and sequencing for teaching and learning in classrooms are ignored or bypassed. At the classroom level, the curriculum takes the form of direct instruction, whole-group teaching, and drill and practice in which content becomes a collection of disjoined facts, information, and procedures that students memorize in preparation for tests.82 Effective teaching becomes following scripts and employing prescribed methods that can get students to meet the academic standards.83
The academic standards and accountability reform in the United States has been criticized by a body of academic literature in terms of narrowing the curriculum,84 increasing inequality,85 deskilling and de-professionalization of teachers,86and so forth. Above all, the reform is underpinned by a human capital model that holds the central purpose of schooling as reproduction of job skills needed by economy—through teaching a body of basic academic knowledge and skills. It embraces a scientific theory of curriculum making, which reflects a resurgence of the application of Frederick Taylor’s early-20th-century principles of scientific management to education—a theory that construes curriculum as centered on specified objectives and teaching as delivery of predetermined knowledge and skills through “scientific methods.”87 Such a model and theory are incapable of preparing students for life and work in the 21st century—characterized in terms of globalization, the knowledge economy, the rapid growth of information and communication technology, the changes in modes of production and consumption, increased awareness of risk and uncertainty, and so forth.88
To argue for the rethinking of curriculum and teaching, then, is to call for a reenvisioning of the two concepts in light of the current educational challenges as a forward-looking alternative to the old-fashioned reductionist and technicist thinking. The reenvisioning can be informed and inspired by German Didaktik which, consistent with Dewey’s idea of reality as a whole, provides a powerful way of thinking about curriculum and teaching as embedded in the social, institutional, and classroom contexts of schooling, directed toward Bildung. At the policy level, the preparation of students for life and work in the 21st century calls for the cultivation of general capabilities and dispositions—such as critical thinking, holistic thinking, creativity and imagination, cosmopolitan attitudes, and social responsibility—as the central purpose of education. 89 This vision of education (i.e., the policy curriculum) is highly compatible with Bildung—that is, with the cultivation of intellectual and moral powers, sensibility, self-awareness, liberty, and responsibility.90 Bildung can be further revised to include the development of those general capabilities and dispositions deemed important for the knowledge society.91 In this context, teaching needs to be seen as directed toward the cultivation of such competences and dispositions of mind, rather than merely the transmission of academic content.
German Didaktik also provides a sophisticated and genuinely intellectual way of thinking about how such a vision of education can be achieved by means of programmatic and classroom curricula. At the programmatic level, the curriculum can be seen as consisting of programs and school subjects formulated for the cultivation of human powers or capabilities and dispositions—in addition to the imparting of a body of academic knowledge and skills. For the perspective of Didaktik, contents—particularly contents deriving from academic disciplines—are embodiments of human wisdom, perspectives, and ways of thinking—and thus constitute a powerful resource for cultivation of human capabilities and dispositions.92 School subjects can be formulated along the conventional disciplinary lines of mathematics, sciences, languages, social studies, and the like. They can be formulated as centered on key social and cultural issues and problems—such as global warning, terrorism, and inequality. No matter which mode of formulation is used, contents can be selected from academic disciplines and a variety of sources (arts media, popular cultures, community-based experiences, and wisdoms) in view of their possible contributions to the development of human capabilities and dispositions. In the formation of a school subject content can be organized and framed in support of an image of teaching as an encounter between students and content for the cultivation of human capabilities and dispositions. For this, the formation needs to strike a balance between regulating classroom practice and maintaining teacher autonomy and professional freedom, which is crucial for teaching as a fruitful meeting between content and students.
At the classroom level, the curriculum can be viewed as a variety of instructional events and tasks jointly planned and enacted by a teacher and students; it is a curriculum in which students meet content in a way that gives rise to the cultivation of capabilities and dispositions. To facilitate such an encounter, the teacher must unlock the educational potential of the content (in the programmatic curriculum) through analyzing and interpreting its educational substance, meaning, and significance in light of the central purpose of education. He or she also needs to interpret the content in a context-specific way that connects with students’ life worlds and gives each student the opportunity to experience the meaning and significance.93 The “parameter” of good teaching, Hopmann (2007) explained, consists in “how the educational substance [of the content] … became open in their [students’] individual meeting with the content in the given teaching process” (p. 117), creating manifold opportunities for the development of intellectual and moral powers or capabilities and dispositions. From this perspective, teachers are fundamentally curriculum makers—not curriculum deliverers or implementers as conceived in the academic standards and accountability movement.
This article tackles the issues and problems in defining curriculum and teaching in academic literature. As alluded to earlier, the state of confusion in defining curriculum has to do with the re-conceptualist turn in curriculum studies—a turn away from actual curriculum practice and the world of schools and classrooms and toward discursive analyses and understanding of multiple forms of human experience. The core issue in defining teaching lies in the tendency to treat teaching as activities independent of an institutional curriculum and apart from the institutional context of schooling.
This article argues for rethinking curriculum and teaching as two interrelated concepts embedded in the social, institutional, and instructional contexts of schooling. This rethinking, as mentioned earlier, is informed by the deliberative tradition of curriculum theory—centrally concerned with the innerwork and practice of schools and classrooms in context, with a firm commitment to the improvement of schooling as a public institution. This tradition, as I have argued elsewhere , provides a way forward for tackling the “crisis” in contemporary curriculum theory which, due to a “flight” from the real-world practice of schooling, has little to contribute to the advancement of school education in the 21st-century. Furthermore, it offers a promising way to revitalize curricular and pedagogical theory.94 In this connection, curricular and pedagogical theory and research, Westbury argued, should not be seen as “detached studies” of mere ideas, experiences, or some aspects of education, schooling, teaching, and learning. Rather, should it should be seen as “activities animated by a commitment on the part of both scholars and teachers to think actively and reflectively, in complex, practice-based ways, about the cultural and societal work of schooling.”95
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(1.) Doyle, W. (1992), Curriculum and pedagogy, In Handbook of research on curriculum (p. 486) (New York: Macmillan).
(2.) Cortes, C. (1979), The societal curriculum and the school curriculum, Educational Leadership, 36(7), 475–479.
(3.) Sandlin, J. et al. (Eds.). (2010). Handbook of public pedagogy: Education and learning beyond schooling (New York: Routledge).
(4.) Jackson, P. (1992), Conceptions of curriculum and curriculum specialists. In Handbook of research on curriculum (pp. 3–40) (New York: Macmillan).
(5.) Jackson, Conceptions of curriculum and curriculum specialists, 11.
(6.) Jackson, Conceptions of curriculum and curriculum specialists, 7.
(7.) Jackson, Conceptions of curriculum and curriculum specialists, 5.
(8.) Jackson, Conceptions of curriculum and curriculum specialists, 11.
(9.) Jackson, Conceptions of curriculum and curriculum specialists, 5.
(10.) Westbury, I. (2000). Teaching as a reflective practice: What might Didaktik teach curriculum. In Teaching as a reflective practice: The German Didaktik tradition (pp. 15–39) (Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum).
(11.) Pinar, W. (2004). What is curriculum Theory? (Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum), 2; and Pinar, W., et al. (1995). Understanding curriculum: An introduction to the study of historical and contemporary curriculum discourses (New York: Peter Lang).
(12.) Oxford English Dictionary.
(13.) Smith, O. (1987). Definitions of teaching. In The international encyclopedia of teaching and teacher education (pp. 11–15) (Oxford: Pergamon).
(14.) Smith, Definitions of teaching, 11–12.
(15.) Smith, Definitions of teaching, 12.
(16.) Smith, Definitions of teaching, 13–14; and Scheffler, I. (1960). The language Of education (Springfield, IL: Charles C Thomas).
(17.) Like the activities of racing and traveling, teaching does not necessarily lead to a successful outcome; it can be said to be performed effectively or ineffectively, skillfully or unskillfully. See Smith, Definitions of teaching, 12–13.
(18.) Smith, Definitions of teaching, 12–13.
(19.) Fenstermacher, G. (1980). What needs to be known about what teachers need to know. In Exploring issues in teacher education: Questions for future research (pp. 35–49) (Austin: University of Texas Press).
(20.) Clark, C., & Peterson P. (1986). Teachers’ thought processes. In Handbook of research on teaching (pp. 255–296) (New York: Macmillan).
(21.) Peters, R. (1967). What is an educational process? In The concept of education (pp. 1–23) (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul).
(22.) Peters, R. (1966). ‘The philosophy of education.’ In The study of education (pp. 59–89) (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul).
(23.) Smith, Definitions of teaching, 13–14.
(24.) Smith, Definitions of teaching, 14.
(25.) Smith, Definitions of teaching, 11.
(26.) See Fenstermacher, G. (1966). Philosophy of research on teaching: Three aspects. In Handbook of research on teaching (New York: Macmillan).
(27.) Fenstermacher, G. Philosophy of research on teaching, 37–49.
(28.) Fenstermacher, G. (2005). On making determinations of quality in teaching, Teachers College Record, 107, 186–213.
(29.) Chinnery, A. (2014). Teaching, concept and models of. In Encyclopaedia of educational theory and philosophy (pp. 792–796) (Thousand Oaks: SAGE).
(30.) Henderson, J. & Gornik, R. (2007). Transformative curriculum leadership (New York: Prentice-Hall).
(31.) Giroux, H. A. (1992). Border crossings: Cultural workers and the politics of education (New York: Routledge); and McLaren, P. (2015). Life in schools: An introduction to critical pedagogy in the foundations of education (6th ed.) (New York: Routledge).
(32.) Connelly, F. M. (2013). Teacher educators, teacher education, curriculum and the landscape of education. In Teacher educators as members of an evolving profession (pp. 211–235) (Plymouth, U.K.: Rowman & Littlefield).
(33.) Dewey, J. (1958). Experience and nature (New York: Dover Publications).
(34.) Dewey, J. (1960). Logic: The theory of inquiry (p. 129) (New York: Henry Holt).
(35.) Dewey, Experience and nature.
(36.) Dewey, J. (2001). The educational situation: As concerns the elementary school. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 33, 387–403.
(37.) Alexander, R. (2000). Culture and pedagogy: International comparisons in primary education (Oxford: Blackwell); Goodlad, J., et al. (1970). Curriculum inquiry: The study of curriculum practice (New York: McGraw-Hill); and Meyer, J. (1980). Levels of the educational system and schooling effects. In The analysis of educational productivity (Vol. 2) (pp. 15–63) (Cambridge, MA: Ballinger).
(38.) Connelly, F. M. (2013). Joseph Schwab, curriculum, curriculum studies and educational reform, Journal of Curriculum Studies, 45, 622–639.
(39.) Deng, Z. (2013). The practical and reconstructing Chinese pedagogics, Journal of Curriculum Studies, 45, 652–667; Reid, W. (1999). Curriculum as institution and practice: Essays in the deliberative tradition (Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum); Schwab, J. (1970/2013). The practical: A language for curriculum, Journal of Curriculum Studies, 45, 591–621; and Schwab, J. (1973). The practical 3: Translation into curriculum, School Review, 81, 501–522.
(40.) Reid, Curriculum as institution and practice; Westbury, I. (1994). Deliberation and the improvement of schooling. In Deliberation in education and society (pp. 35–65), Norwood, NJ: Ablex.
(41.) Westbury, I. (2002). Toward an understanding of the ‘aims’ of music education. In The new handbook of research on music teaching and learning: A project of the Music Educators National Conference (pp. 105–112) (Oxford: Oxford University Press). (Note that the notion here is different from the Cortes’ concept of societal curriculum.)
(42.) Labaree, D. (2012). School syndrome: Understanding the USA’s magical belief that schooling can somehow improve society, promote access, and preserve advantage, Journal of Curriculum Studies, 44, 143–163.
(43.) Westbury, Toward an understanding of the ‘aims’ of music education; also see Reid, W. (2006). The pursuit of curriculum: Schooling and the public interest (Greenwich, CT: IAP).
(44.) Reid, The pursuit.
(45.) For instance, when classroom teaching becomes “visible” to politicians, business leaders, parents, etc., through public examinations, classroom surveys, and parental meetings, questions about expectations and beliefs on schooling could be inevitable: What should be the functions or purposes of schooling? How well does the curriculum prepare students to meet the current and future challenges of the social and political order? Social beliefs and expectations are thus brought to bear on classrooms.
(46.) Westbury, I. (2003). Curriculum, school: Overview. In The encyclopedia of education (p. 534) (New York: Macmillan).
(47.) Doyle, Curriculum and pedagogy; Doyle, W. (1992). Constructing curriculum in the classroom. In Effective and responsible teaching: The new syntheses (pp. 66–79) (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass); and Westbury, Teaching as a reflective practice.
(48.) Doyle, Curriculum and pedagogy; Doyle, Constructing curriculum in the classroom; and Westbury, Teaching as a reflective practice.
(49.) Doyle, Curriculum and pedagogy; and Deng, Z. (2011). Revisiting curriculum potential, Curriculum Inquiry, 41, 538–559.
(50.) Doyle, Constructing curriculum in the classroom.
(51.) Doyle, Curriculum and pedagogy; and Doyle, Constructing curriculum in the classroom.
(52.) Doyle, Constructing curriculum in the classroom; and Hattie, J. (2009). Visible learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement (London: Routledge).
(53.) Zumwalt, K. (1989). Beginning professional teachers: The need for a curricular vision of teaching. In Knowledge base for the beginning teachers (pp. 173–184) (Oxford: Pergamon).
(54.) De Castell, S., Luke, A., & Carmen Luke (Eds.). (1999). Language, authority, and criticism: Readings on the school textbook (London: Falmer Press).
(55.) See Eisner, E. (1979). The educational imagination: On the design and evaluation of educational programs (New York: Macmillan).
(56.) Goodlad and associates (1970). Curriculum inquiry.
(57.) Hopmann, S. (1999). The curriculum as a standard in public education. In Studies in philosophy and education, 18, 89–105.
(58.) See Reid, The pursuit.
(59.) Apple, M. (2004). Ideology and curriculum (3d ed.) (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul); Young, M. (Ed.) (1971). Knowledge and control: New directions for the sociology of education (London: Collier-Macmillan).
(60.) Pinar, What is curriculum theory?; and Pinar, W. et al. (Eds.), Understanding curriculum.
(61.) Gee, J. (1996). Social linguistics and literacies: Ideology in discourses (London: Taylor & Francis).
(62.) Alexander; Cohen, D. (1989). Teaching practice: Plus que ca change. In Contributing to educational change: Perspectives on research and practice (pp. 27–84) (Berkeley, CA: McCutchan).
(63.) Meyer, Levels of the educational system and schooling effects.
(64.) Reid, The pursuit.
(65.) Doyle, Constructing curriculum in the classroom.
(66.) Meyer, Levels of the educational system and schooling effects; Reid, Curriculum; and Reid, The pursuit.
(67.) Grossman, P., & Stodolsky, S. (1995). Content as context: The role of school subjects in secondary school teaching, Educational Researcher, 24, 5–23.
(68.) Deng, Revisiting curriculum potential; and Karmon, A. (2007). ‘Institutional organization of knowledge’: The missing link in educational discourse, Teachers College Record, 109(3), 603–634.
(69.) Schwab, The practical; Schwab, J., The practical, 3; and Reid, The pursuit.
(71.) Doyle, Constructing curriculum in the classroom, 507–508.
(72.) Deng, Revisiting curriculum potential.
(73.) Doyle, Constructing curriculum in the classroom, 77.
(74.) Westbury, Deliberation and the improvement of schooling.
(75.) Reid, The pursuit, 85.
(76.) Apple, Ideology and curriculum; and Young (Ed.), Knowledge and control.
(77.) Reid, The pursuit.
(78.) Giroux, Border crossings.
(79.) Hopmann, S. (2007). Restrained teaching: The common cores of Didaktik, European Educational Research Journal, 6(2), 109–124; Hopmann, S. (2008). No child, no school, no state left behind: Schooling in the age of accountability, Journal of Curriculum Studies, 40(4), 417–456; and Karseth, B. & Sivesind, K. Conceptualising curriculum knowledge within and beyond the national context, European Journal of Education, 45(1), 103–120.
(80.) Hopmann, No child, no school, no state left behind.
(81.) Au, W. (2011). Teaching under the new Taylorism: High‐stakes testing and the standardization of the 21st century curriculum, Journal of Curriculum Studies, 43, 25–45; and Cochran-Smith, M. & Lytle, S. (2006). Troubling images of teaching in no child left behind. Harvard Educational Review, 76, 668–697.
(82.) Au, Teaching under the new Taylorism.
(83.) Hlebowitsh, P. (2012). When best practices aren’t: A Schwabian perspective on teaching. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 44, 1–12.
(84.) Herman, J. L. (2006). Accountability and assessment in K-12: Is public interest in K-12 served. In American Educational Research Association Annual Meeting (pp. 7–11); McMurrer, J. (2007). Choices, changes, and challenges: Curriculum and instruction in the NCLB era (Washington, DC: CEP); Nichols, S. & Berliner, D. (2008). Why has high-stakes testing so easily slipped into contemporary American life? Phi Delta Kappan, 89, 672–676.
(85.) See, for example, Berliner, D. (2006). Our impoverished view of educational reform, Teachers College Record, 108, 949–995.
(86.) Au. (2006). Teaching under the new Taylorism; and Luke, A., Teaching after the market, Ideology, Curriculum, and the New Sociology of Education, 115–144.
(87.) Au, Teaching under the new Taylorism.
(88.) Luke, Teaching after the market; Yates, L., & Young, M. (2010). Globalisation, knowledge and the curriculum, European Journal of Education, 45, 4–10; and Reimers, F. (2006). Citizenship, identity and education: Examining the public purposes of schools in an age of globalization, Prospects, 36, 275–294.
(89.) Stevens, R. (2012). Identifying 21st century capabilities, International Journal of Learning and Change, 6, 123–137.
(90.) Hopmann, Restrained teaching.
(91.) Willbergh, I. (2015). The problems of ‘competence’ and alternatives from the Scandinavian perspective of Bildung, Journal of Curriculum Studies, 47, 334–354.
(92.) Klafki, W. (2000). Didaktik analysis as the core of preparation of instruction. In Teaching as a reflective practice: The German Didaktik tradition (pp. 139–159) (Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum).
(93.) Willbergh, The problems of ‘competence’ and alternatives from the Scandinavian perspective of Bildung.
(94.) Deng, Z. (2013). Introduction, Journal of Curriculum Studies, 45, 583–590.
(95.) Westbury, I. Introduction. In Looking into classrooms: Papers on didactics (p. xiii) (Stamford, CT: Ablex Publishing).