Understanding the Roots of Curriculum Development

Thought I'd try to use some previous writing to kick-start my blog. Feedback always appreciated!

As a Social 30 teacher one of my main challenges was to teach students how to analyze and explore issues. Ultimately, the side-effect that I hoped would come from this is that they would become better essay writers. That they would be able to research and explore an issue, determine a position of their own and back it up with solid examples and case studies. At the same time, I wanted them to be able to see the “other” side of the issue. I wanted them to be able to understand why reasonable people might think differently than themselves on a given issue.
At the heart of this, the developing of a good social studies thesis paper, lies the intent of the entire Social Studies Curriculum.

As Alberta embarked on overhauling the Social Studies Curriculum, the writers needed to not only embed models of critical inquiry, but needed to produce a document that took multiple perspectives into consideration. They needed to consider that all groups may not have the same view of history as they, the writers, viewed history. Finally, the authors had to be wary of their own biases in developing curriculum and at the same time needed to be cautious about not overcompensating and over-representing interest groups.

As the Social Studies curriculum is designed around the notion of critical inquiry, I felt that Beyer and Apple’s “Curriculum as Complex Questions” lent itself nicely to this particular curriculum. The model consists of eight questions designed to make us consider the morality of curriculum (Bolotin Joseph, 2000). As space is limited, I will not examine the curriculum using all eight of the questions laid out by Beyer and Apple. Nor will I move through each of the three general outcomes of grade four Social Studies. Instead, I plan to focus on the questions that will highlight some of the underlying beliefs, assumptions and values present in the social studies curriculum. I will narrow my focus of the grade four curriculum specifically to general outcome 4.2 (The Stories, Histories and Peoples of Alberta). This outcome, combined with the philosophical background found in the Front Matter, should provide enough detail to explore the “complex questions”.

My plan is to present this in a series of postings beginning with Epistemology:

The first question is really about what should count as knowledge (Beyer, 1998)? This may prove to be the most difficult question to answer given the artifacts available. Alberta Learning (2005) provides a “scope and sequence” that outlines the content of each grade level and the “dimensions of thinking” required at each level, but there is little recorded discourse available to understand why things are included. Reference is made to respondents “preferring grade 4 and grade 5” to focus on Alberta and Canada in that order (Alberta 2003, p.7), however no specific reason other than preference is provided. One can only assume that this preference came from the fact that the previous curriculum was arranged in the same way. Whether or not this is the best order to present curriculum would still be a source of debate.

In the bigger picture, the Front Matter (Alberta, 2005) refers to the core concepts of citizenship and identity. While this will be explored in subsequent questions, a link can be made between historical and political reasons that influence epistemology. What should count as knowledge is influenced by who controls the curriculum. In this case, governments have a vested interest in promoting concepts such as “democracy”, “individual and collective rights”, “respect” and “equality” (Alberta, 2005, p. 3).

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