Midterm Exam: Curriculum Theory
Table of Contents
From the point of view of perennialism, permanence is the most important feature of education. The primary principles of perennialism are as follows. First of all, human nature is universal; therefore, education must be the same for everyone. Knowledge is also universal, so there are certain basic things that must be taught to all people. As a result, the curriculum must also be universal and unchanged for all groups of students. The education system must deal with knowledge, not with the points of view because knowledge leads people to the eternal truth and introduces students to the immutability of the world, i.e. it teaches that the world and thus human nature is static. The efforts of teachers, whose authority is considered unquestionable, must be centered on the subject rather than on students, whose interests are irrelevant to the educational process. Subjects that discipline the mind such as Languages, Logic and Geometry are considered to be the most important. In addition, the works that have stood the test of time rise above everything else in terms of their relevance. For example, during the Transition Period in the history of the U.S. (1893-1918), the Classics, which were based on the on the culture of the Ancient Greece and Rome, dominated in the contemporary curriculum due to their status of the time-tested subjects. Finally, school is viewed as a means of developing rationality in people, without which human life cannot be lived to its full extent.
Progressivism has emerged from the opposition to the traditional educational philosophies, such as perennialism. In particular, it denounces the following aspects: the authoritarianism of the teacher, the domination of book learning methods and isolation of the educational process from social reality. The primary principles of progressivism are as follows. First of all, the process of education finds its origin and purpose in the child. As a result, the child is placed at the center of education, meaning that the curriculum and teaching methods stem from the needs, interests and initiatives of students and the society. The teacher should play the role of an adviser, guide and partner rather than an authoritarian figure. The primary reason for this lies in the fact that human existence is based on changes, i.e. it is not static by its nature. For example, it is impossible to provide children with all the knowledge that they will need it in the future because no one can tell in what way the society will develop in a few years. Therefore, the need for an authoritative teacher providing only highly specialized knowledge is virtually eliminated. As a result, the curriculum is also interdisciplinary. Finally, the social atmosphere in schools is democratic, encouraging students to cooperate with teachers and each other as well as stimulating their self-discipline. This position is a natural product of the belief that school is a small-scale model of the society. As a result, the process of education resembles life itself because similar processes constantly take place in people’s life. For example, a child watching the work of his or her parents learns from this experience due to his or her curiosity and interest. Similarly, a child can obtain knowledge at school provided that it triggers his or her interest.
Essentialism has emerged as a reaction to progressivism, which was considered too soft and therefore ineffective philosophy that has turned education into farce. It does not have a single philosophical base, with the fundamentals of its philosophical doctrine being based on idealism and realism. The primary principles of essentialism are as follows. First of all, the primary purpose of school is to provide the basic (essential) education. For essentialists, education is a means of preparing students to the life in a civilized society, meaning that the curriculum is developed in accordance with its contemporary needs. As a result, in the most radical cases, the curriculum does not contain such inessential subjects as Art, Music, Physical Education and Home Economics. As in case of perennialism, studying is perceived as a hard work that requires discipline. The study of necessary subjects cannot be correlated only with the interests of a child. Although the method of solving practical problems offered by progressivists is often successful, it must be acknowledged that not all study material can be squeezed into the framework of the specific tasks and projects. For the most part, it should be absorbed by using techniques such as memorization and exercise. The immediate needs of a child are not as important as more distant targets, and efforts outweigh interest. For example, the interest of students in studying a particular subject develops when they make a sufficient amount of effort required to understand it. Finally, the teacher is the source of authority for the class. He is not a guide or a partner but rather the one who knows what the students need to know (i.e. an authoritarian figure). He is well acquainted with the logical order of knowledge of his subject and the way in which it must be presented. In addition, the teacher is a representative of the adult society and he or she takes a position that requires respect from students.
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Finally, reconstructionism has emerged as a reaction to the Great Depression of the 1930s, when the American democracy was threatened and social unrest became quite common. In such conditions, an idea of a new social order based on the collective economic system and democratic political principles appeared. Moreover, the traditional role of school changed completely, becoming the leading authority of the mentioned social reforms. The principles of reconstructionism are as follows. First of all, the only effective solution to the world’s problems is the creation of a global world order. The cooperation of all countries is absolutely necessary for the achievement of this goal. In turn, the society has become the primary focus of education, which is the most active force in the process of reconstruction of the social order. At the same time, there is a need for the critical assessment of the cultural heritage of the society to avoid the adverse effects of the transformation. For example, schools that express such dominant social values as the passion for maximization of one’s profits can pass the social, economic and political evils on to the next generations of students, thus exacerbating the problem instead of solving it. In addition, the teaching methods are based on democratic principles. In other words, after all the options have been reviewed, the choice of the solutions to the problems is based on the opinion of the majority. As a result, students have an ability to choose the best option from a variety of social, political and economic systems in the future. In addition, teachers must make every effort so that their views are supported by the majority of children. In other words, the participants of the educational process must review the controversial issues and avoid neutrality while doing it. Finally, from the point of view of the representatives of reconstructionism, the curriculum emphasizes internationalism (cooperation of countries), cultural pluralism (democratic educational process) and futurism (student’s choice of a system in the future).
At this point, the contemporary educational philosophy is best described by the means of progressivism. Of course, in the modern system of education, a student is not always the central figure. However, the democratic principles of communication between students and a teacher as well as the role of the latter as a guide and a partner in the educational process are common in the contemporary educational philosophy. Moreover, the curriculum is developed on the basis of the principle of relevance. In addition, the majority of modern schools function in accordance with the principles of the society. For example, there is a wide array of social groups that can be identified by certain features, with each of them having both formal and informal leaders. This fact also corresponds to the point of view of progressivists, according to which school is the reflection of the society – in other words, its small-scale model. All these facts allow concluding that among all the reviewed educational philosophies, progressivism is the closest to the contemporary one, and therefore it provides the most fitting description of it.
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When selecting between the two following statements – “Schools influence society” and “Society influences schools” – it is possible to say that the latter one is more relevant. The primary reason for such position is the fact that the primary purpose of any school in particular and education as a whole is to pass the specific values, norms and traditions of the society on to the next generations of students. Naturally, any society has its unique culture and therefore a set of values and norms. As a result, the content of education also differs significantly. For example, in the Roman Empire, the primary purpose of education was to prepare military commanders and senators. In the Medieval Europe, schools focused on the study of the Christian religion. During the Renaissance, there was an increased interest in the culture, art and literature, which was also reflected in the contemporary system of education. As a result, over time and age, the cultural interests of the society varied, influencing the content and philosophy of education. Thus, schools contribute to the preservation of the values accumulated by the society, meaning they are influenced by it.
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The similar point of view is expressed by several educational philosophies. In particular, for the representatives of perennialism, school is subordinate to the society. Indeed, the knowledge and wisdom accumulated by the society over the thousands of years, which have managed to pass the test of time, are still used in the process of education. The study of works of the prominent representatives of the society, namely philosophers (Plato and Socrates), scientists (Newton) and politicians (Franklin) is the best way of contact with the greatest ideas of humanity, which did not lose their relevance even today. This statement is supported by the fact that perennialism was the dominating American philosophy of education up to the end of the XIX century, meaning that schools were heavily influenced by the ideas and thoughts of the representatives of the society. In particular, the process of teaching was based on the method developed by Socrates.
Additionally, the representatives of another educational philosophy – progressivism – view school as a place where the process of teaching goes on in accordance with the same rules that govern the life itself. As a result, from their point of view, school is a reflection of the society that has created it. Indeed, the process of learning in school and outside its walls is based on the same principles –interest and curiosity act as a stimulus for learning. However, such connection between interest and desire to learn has been inherent in people and therefore the society long before schools were created. As a result, it is obvious that the educational process and therefore schools have been influenced by the society in their basic principles. Moreover, the relevance of the curriculum, which is one of the basic principles of progressivism, is a clear example of the society’s influence on schools. Indeed, the curriculum is being developed in accordance with the needs, interests and initiatives of students, which are the members of the society. Therefore, they represent its needs, interests and initiatives to a certain extent, meaning that the society influences the educational process in an indirect way. Such trend may be observed even nowadays, albeit in somewhat different form. Modern educational facilities have their curriculum developed in accordance with the needs of the contemporary society. As a result, the subjects such as Accounting, Management and Finances, which were almost unknown prior to the industrial era, being the privilege of the selected few, are widespread nowadays. The only reason for their wide availability for the general public is the fact that the contemporary society demands an increased amount of people with the corresponding skills to function properly. As a result, it is possible to say that the changes in the society have made a significant impact on schools.
On the other hand, the representatives of such educational philosophies as reconstructionism argue that the primary role of schools and education is to change the current world order. In other words, from their point of view, school influences the society, being a driving force for its transformation. However, it should be noted that such attitude towards the role of schools has been formed as a response to the consequences of the Great Depression, when both the American economy and democracy were on the verge of destruction, and there was a need for a change. Thus, the primary reason for the governing role of schools in the process of social transformation was the social demand for them. As a result, the influence of schools on the society is only a consequence of the society’s influence on the former. Moreover, the very requirements presented by reconstructionists to schools, educational process and curriculum are their opinions as the members of the society who try to address its current problems.
Therefore, it is possible to conclude that the society is the primary factor of influence on school as it defines the principles and aspects of their work as well as their curriculum on the basis of the contemporary norms, values and traditions. Even in case the primary purpose of schools is to transform the society, as stated by the representatives of reconstructionism, the stimulus for such transformation is generated by the society. In turn, school is nothing but a tool to ensure that this stimulus will be used properly. Thus, even in this case, school is created in accordance with the requirements presented by the community, which stem from its current needs. By summarizing all that was said above, it is possible to conclude that the society influences school and not vice versa.