EDUC 823

Welcome to Educ 823-5

Curriculum and Instruction in an Individual Teaching Specialty

Below, you will find a week by week outline of the Education 823 course, including a general introduction. You can use the links directly below to jump to any of the weeks. At the end of each weekly outline, the readings for that week (if there are any) are available. To view the readings on screen, simply double click on the desired reading. To save the reading to disk once it has appeared on the screen, select Save As from the File menu at the top of the screen. The reading will be saved in a text format and should open with most word processing software.

IntroductionWeek 1Week 2Week3Week 4Week 5Week 6
Week 7Week 8Week 9Week 10Week 11Week 12Week 13


This course is designed to help you learn and think about the structure and purposes of the school curriculum and the place in it of a teaching specialty of your choosing; we will also be considering various techniques of instruction.

There are four methods used to achieve these ends; methods which we may grandly call philosophical, historical, developmental, and practical.

We will begin by considering conflicting viewpoints on what the school curriculum and techniques of instruction ought to be. These viewpoints will be taken from different times over the past hundred years or so. Then we will look at the main changes in curriculum during the same period, and you will be encouraged to focus particularly on the changes in your chosen teaching specialty. Having taken a look at the curriculum from an historical perspective, we will look at it from a "developmental" perspective. That is, we will look at what the curriculum might be if it is designed to accommodate to the changing ways in which children make sense of things as they grow older. Again, you will be encouraged to consider, or reconsider, your chosen teaching specialty in light of some observations about children's and student's educational development. Finally, we will consider attempts to implement the hteories examined in the previous part of the course. You will be encouraged to design some practical teaching units or lessons in your teaching specialty based on some of these instructional techniques and on ideas you have developed throughout the course.

Discussions about the school curriculum are, fundamentally, discussions about how we ought to live - or about how we want to bring up children to live. We will, then, expect these discussions to be about things that matter most to us. If we find them to be purely academic exercises, this is a sign that we are failing to make contact between the ideas in the course and matters of daily living. That connection is one that you will have to work hard to keep alive. It is very easy when reading a paper about the curriculum to treat it as another piece of academic work. Bear in mind that what we are discussing here is how we ought to live, what kinds of things give the best pleasures available to human beings, and which of them we should make accessible to children. We are discussing what we should fill our time with. There are choices, of course, and an interest in the curriculum is an interest in how best we should fill children's time in the present so that they will fill it in some particular ways in the future.

This is a graduate distance education course. The implications of this are that a lot is required of you both in terms of the quantity and quality of work and in terms of determination. Taking this course on the campus at S.F.U. is easier, in that students there have the support of fellow class-members and access to the professor. We try to compensate for the lack of these as much as possible within the Internet format, but taking the course by yourself in this way must be a significantly different kind of experience. On campus students have fewer but larger assignments. One attempt at compensating for your lack of access to the professor is to provide a larger number of smaller assignments so that we can give you fairly constant feedback. Another inevitable result of the Internet format is that there is a lot of reading. It is carefully chosen, and not very much different from that which is done during the on-campus course.

At first you may feel that the course has no direct relationship with your own teaching, as the first weeks concentrate on the philosophical background. However, as you progress through the course you will gradually perceive the practical applications more and more clearly.


On completion of this course:

The most general objective, however, is that you should be able to see the present form of the curriculum and presently fashionable techniques of teaching in a much wider context and, as a result, that you should be able to think more effectively about them and be able to articulate better your positions. The purpose of such thinking and articulating should be practical improvements in your teaching and an enhanced ability to be politically effective in improving the curriculum.

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Week 1

The readings for this first week are three papers I wrote. I used to give introductory lectures on these topics, and then decided some time ago that it made more sense to write the lectures up as articles and then discuss them after the students had read them. They are not particularly closely related to each other, but they raise fundamental issues that have a general impact on thinking about the curriculum. The essays are Letting our presuppositions think for us, Educating and socializing: a proper distinction? and Competing Voices for the Curriculum.

Read the papers now. You might find the following questions useful to focus your reading, or useful to help you reflect on the readings when you have finished.

Questions for the Presuppositions paper :

1. Do I hold presuppositions about human nature, culture, consciousness, and so on? What are they?

2. Are my views about the proper aims of education a kind of covert autobiography?

3. What is the distinction between an assumption and a presupposition?

4. What are the most prominent assumptions of the Year 2000 documents?

5. Is the claim about the idleness of curriculum discussions that go on without making presuppositions explicit fair?

Questions for the Educating and Socializing paper :

1. Do our schools tend to make people more alike or more distinct?

2. What features of schooling counter the "homogenizing" of people?

3. Does making a clear distinction between educating and socializing imply an elitist view of education?

4. How would you evaluate the competing demands for curriculum time of Consumer Education and Latin?

5. What ought the relationship be between our public schools and "High Culture"?

Questions for the "Competing Voices" paper:

1. Do you agree that ideas, rather than more pragmatic issues of power, are where we should focus our attention to understand change in schooling?

2. Can you think of any position on education or the curriculum not covered by one of the three major ideas, or combination of them?

3. Is the article too casual in rejecting the ususal suspects who are blamed for problems in education? What do you think is the primary cause of any ineffectiveness in our education system?

4. Do you agree that the three major ideas are really incompatible? This is a radical claim, counter to our everyday practice and assumptions. How might you show it is wrong, or misguided, or not convincing?

5. How would you characterize your own view on education in terms of these ideas?


Letting Our Presuppositions Think For Us (Egan)Educating and Socializing: A Proper Distinction? (Egan)Competing Voices for the Curriculum (Egan)

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This week we have a number of articles, some quite brief so don't panic, yet. They are designed to bring out some of the basic beliefs of those who take a general "progressivist" stance on education, and who oppose the "traditionalist" position. We will look at some traditionalist writings next week.

We begin with a section from Herbert Spencer's "Education: Intellectual, Moral and Spiritual", which was published in 1861. This book was made up from essays he had published separately during the previous decade. I suspect you might be surprised by how "modern" these ideas appear. One purpose of looking at essays written over the last century and a half is to see how very little has changed (and you would find most of these ideas in Jean-Jacques Rousseau's "Emile" anyway.) So you will encounter in Spencer ideas that are touted as new and exciting innovations in recent B.C. curriculum documents. You might reflect on why this should be so.

Our second and third readings are from John Dewey and Susan Isaacs. Dewey is usually seen as the originator of many of the central ideas of progressivism. His "Democracy in Education" has been the most influential book in education during this century. Fervent progressivists tend to claim that Dewey's ideas have never been adequately put into practice. This may be so. You might reflect on why this might be the case. Susan Isaacs was an influential British "progressive" or "modernist" educator, whose work in some ways was not unlike Dewey's.

The fourth and fifth readings are from radical progressivist writers Paul Goodman, Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner who became prominent and influential in the 1960's. Their writings, briefly excerpted here, provided support to the "free school" movement of that time. You will see some of the ideas encountered earlier given a more urgent note, a more radical expression, and tied to an acute social conciousness.

The sixth reading is taken from a contemporary Canadian writer on education.

I will not put a set of guiding questions for these readings here. I have rather inserted questions into the text in italics at various points. I hope these help to focus your thinking as you read rather than serve as a distraction. If the latter occurs, just ignore them. (I won't be hurt, really. Sniff).


Pscycology: Nature, Teaching and Learning(Spencer)My Pedagogic Creed (Dewey)Isaac's (TBA)
The Present Moment in Progressive Education (Goodman)Making Contact (Postman/Weingartner)Canadian Mystery Writer (TBA)

Assignment 2:

Before going on to the assignment, you might find it worthwhile at this point to consider the degree to which the ideas of the Progressives have influenced the curriculum area you teach in B.C., and the degree to which their ideas have influenced your teaching practice.

If you look at the structure od the B.C. curriculum in your teaching specialty, would you say it is more dominated by Traditional or Progressive ideas? Can you identify those parts which are more Progressive?

Consider your own style of teaching and the influences that have helped form it. Those influences probably include the teachers you were taught by, your teacher-training program, professional development experiences, and so on--all interpreted by features of your personality, which no doubt are the main determiners of your teaching style. Can you identify various influences that you have responded to as Traditional or Progressive?

Assignment: On the evidence of the two readings for this week, what would you identify as the main presuppositions of the Progressives? (Remember, a presupposition is not usually a part of the explicit argument. It is usually something profound that the writer holds to be true and on which the explicit argument is constructed. Frequently writers are unaware of their presuppositions. One mark of keener minds is the degree to which they are aware of their presuppositions, and take account of them in their arguments) Try to explicate their presuppositions in general terms, and offer your evaluation of them, in about five pages or so.

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I have chosen five pieces to bring out some central features of the traditionalist position. Again, the first is taken from the latter part of the 19th century to indicate something of the unchanging basis of traditionalism.

The first reading is taken from Matthew Arnold's (1822-1888) "Lietrature ans Science". Arnold's father Thomas was the principal of Rugby School in England and he instituted radical reforms that gave the British "public" (i.e. private) schools the kind of curriculum they kept until recently. Matthew was a poet, some of whose lyrics are still a staple of the English literature curriculum. He was a civil servant for a while, and then became one of the first and most influential Inspectors of Schools. He tried to see a way of making a bridge between the old classical curriculum of the upper classes and the education to be provided to the lower class children coming into the new and expanding state schools.

The second reading is from T.S. Eliot's (1888-1965) "Notes Towards the Definition of Culture" (1948). Eliot was also a poet; normally considered one of the greatest of this century and, perhaps adding to his educational ideas, one who has had a revolutionary influence on English poetry. His father, Charles William, was also a leading educator who carried out major reforms to the organization and curriculum of Harvard College, whose president he was from 1869 to 1909, turning it inot a full university. Thomas Sterns won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1948, stimulated by what many critics consider his greatest work "Four Quartets" (1944). In that occasionally difficult poem, you will find echoes of some of the ideas he expresses so trenchantly and somewhat bitterly in this reading.

The third reading is by Michael Oakeshott (1901-198?). He was an English political philosopher who was the teacher and significant influence on Richard Peters, whose works enjoyed some influence in the 1960's and 70's. Oakeshott's piece is an unrestrained attack on the progressivist ideas which he sees as causing immense confusion and destruction to education, and to his notion of civilization in general. This is not a systematic argument, but rather an attempt to point to what is centrally to blame for the current ills of education. Some people find his style difficult and even though it is a long-ish piece, you might find it rewards a second reading.

The fourth reading is taken from Hilda Neatby's "So Little for the Mind" (1953). Neatby had served as a member of the Massey Commision, which expressed distress at the growing American influence over Canadian education (1951). Neatby, in her own book, which had a very wide circulation in Canada, attacked particularly the progressivism and "socialist" ideas of John Dewey. She felt that Dewey had had an "incalculable influence" in Canada, and her book was an attempt to counter it. It is hard to calculate now the impact of her work, but it was obviously of some importance in setting the stage for the curriculum-centred reforms of the late 1950's and early 60's.

The fifth reading is Chapter 2 of Andrew Nikiforuk's "School's Out: The Catastrophe in Public Education and What We Can Do About It" (Toronto: MacFarlane, Walter and Ross, 1993). Nikiforuk wrote about education for the Toronto "Globe and Mail" newspaper. He carries on the critical polemic against the progressive influence of schools which we saw earlier in Neatby. Nikiforuk is a journalist, and this may be evident in comparing his attacks on current schooling practices with those of Neatby.


The Content of a Liberal Education (Arnold)Notes on Education and Culture (Eliot)Education: The Engagement and its Frustration (Part 1) (Oakeshott)
Education: The Engagement and its Frustration (Part 2) (Oakeshott)So Little for the Mind (Neatby)School's Out (Nikiforuk)

Assignment 3:

What presuppositions do you think the writers share? (Recall the definition of a presupposition from the last assignment). Write approximately five pages on the presuppositions which, from the evidence in these essays. Support your claims by citing key phrases or passages from the essays, and conclude with your evaluation of their position--its strengths and weaknesses.

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For the next two weeks we will be concerned with E.D. Hirsch, Jr.'s "Cultural Literacy". My aim for this and for Howard Gardener's "The Unschooled Mind" is to enable you to consider modern examples of the main philosophical ideas we considered earlier as they attempt--and have succeeded--in influencing the practice of education today. Both books have been successful in the single sense of selling widely and being discussed in the professional literature about education. Hirsch's represents a modern attempt to implement a traditional conception of education, and Gardener's is inspired by progressivist ideas. Both have also been successful in significantly influencing practice, at least in particular places.

Hirsch's book enjoyed considerable notoriety after its publication in 1987; it also enjoyed the support and promotion of William Bennett who served under President Reagan as the U.S. Secretary of Education. "Cultural Literacy" along with Allan Bloom's "The Closing of the American Mind", were the best known books in the 'neo-conservative' backlash against what they saw as the philistinism and vacuousness of American Education.

Hirsch has gone on to develop a much more detailed 'Cultural Literacy curriculum.' He has produced, with collaborators, books for each of the early grades, with titles such as "What Your 5th Grader Needs to Know". They are attractively produced, and are serving as the backbone for the curriculum in many states in the U.S., and as an inspiration for many in Canada. He has also set up the Core Knowledge Foundation to support and further his educational ideas. You can follow up some of this by investigating the following links:

Core Knowledge Home Page

Liberty Tree

A discussion by William Hare in the context of Dewey

Or consider a critique

You can check out E.D. Hirsch's vita if you wish

You might find the following questions of some use to guide your reading:

...coming soon....

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