Curriculum Beyond Credentials: Reclaiming the Subject

By Fernando Murillo

PhD in Curriculum Studies Program
Faculty of Education
University of British Columbia

Curriculum Beyond Credentials: Reclaiming the Subject

September 18, 2021

January 2016

“Stone upon stone, and man, where was he?

Air upon air, and man, where was he?

Time upon time, and man, where was he?”

Pablo Neruda, section X in Heights of Machu Pichu.


Over the last century, curriculum has been thought of as mainly a matter of determining the right subject-matter contents and arranging them in the right way for a course of study.

The publication of “The Curriculum” in 1918 by Franklin Bobbit provides an important antecedent for the installation of a pervasive logic that would saturate the “common sense” of educational practice. Under the flag of efficiency, Bobbitt introduces the idea of a need for external standards to evaluate and modify educational activity, equating education with the world of factory production of goods. For him, “Education is a shaping process as much as the manufacture of steel rails…” (Bobbitt, 1918, p. 12).

In what could be read as a regressive move, current educational policies and practices are increasingly placing a strong accent on competency-based curricula, in a return to pre-defined behaviours and standardized measurement as a norm to deal with educative practice in direct relation to economic matters (as in policies directed by UNESCO, World Bank, InterAmerican Bank for Development, OCDE).

However, what the reconceptualist movement (Huebner 1997; Pinar 2015) and critical perspectives of education (Freire 1970; Tadeu Da Silva 2001) have helped us see, is that far from a technical, administrative, objective and value-free practice, what is actually at play in curriculum is the mediation of power relations which constitute knowledge and identities. In other words, in the context of institutionalized education, we learn much more than just contents and techniques. We learn ways of being and becoming. As I have stated elsewhere (Murillo 2014; in press), what is at stake – particularly in higher education – is the configuration of structures of thought, action and emotion that predispose future professionals to act in a certain way in the social sphere.

This brings curriculum into the realm of ethics. We are forming a particular type of subject to act in a particular way, with a particular type of society in mind.

In discussing the German tradition of bildung, Wilhelm Van Humboldt (circa 1793) states that in our process of education (understood as formation) “it is the ultimate task of our existence to achieve as much substance as possible for the concept of humanity in our person, both during the span of our life and beyond it, through the traces we leave by means of our vital activity” (p. 58).

This has two implications for the curriculum of higher education: the centrality of the subject as person in the process of study in the acquisition of human substance, and the fact that our vital activity leaves traces.

What traces are our professionals leaving behind their intervention in the world? How are we preparing them to be ethically responsible for the effects of their action?

Considering the psychoanalytic perspective that a fundamental element in the development of the subject is the role of his/her desires (expressed in ideas, beliefs, needs and wants), in the work of curriculum design, development and evaluation it is now fundamental to ask along with Neruda: “and man, where was he?”.


Bobbit, F. (1918). The curriculum. USA: The Riverside Press

Da Silva, T. (2001). Espacios de Identidad: Nuevas visiones sobre el currículum. Barcelona: Octaedro.

Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the oppressed. USA: Bloomsbury Publishing

Huebner, D. (1997). The lure of the transcendent: collected essays by Dwayne E. Huebner.  Hillis, V. & Pinar, W. (Eds). New Jersey: Laurence Erlbaum Associates Inc. Publishers.

Gómez, H. & Murillo, F. (Eds.)(2014). Formación docente: Demandas desde la frontera. Santiago, Chile: Ediciones UCSH.

Murillo, F. (in press). La formación profesional más allá del saber-hacer: consideraciones y desafíos para una gestión curricular post-competencial. In Castro, C., Gómez, H. and Reyes, L. (Eds.), Desafíos y tensiones en la gestión del curriculum: teoría y práctica (pp. 85-91). Santiago, Chile: Ediciones UCSH.

Pinar, W. (2015). Educational experience as lived: knowledge, history, alterity. The selected works of William F. Pinar. Routledge.