Conceptions of Curriculum
by Chase Young

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Conceptualizations of the curriculum have direct effects on what and how subjects are taught. The following discussion will explore humanistic, social reconstructionist, systemic, and academic curricula. Each has its own way of affecting the curriculum.

The humanistic curriculum focuses on individualism. This curriculum is aimed to help students discover themselves as they move through school. Humanists conceptualize the curriculum as a spontaneous and exploratory tool. The function of the curriculum is to foster intrinsic rewards for learning. In end, self-actualization is the goal (McNeil, 2009).

The teacher builds relationships with the students and promotes individual learning. These relationships and beliefs will inspire students to innovate, and help students confidently take risks in learning. Failure is regarded as progress.

While this curriculum is still evident in teaching, especially in the primary grades, it is critiqued by social reconstructionists. They believe the curriculum should promote social change, and humanist focus on individuals. The social reconstructionist curriculum strive for social change, and education is a means to achieve it.

The social reconstructionist see curriculum as the means for social change. Education can help foster discontent for the way the world is, and provide an avenue for change. Teachers ascribing to this conception match the goals of students with the global goals. The teachers help students understand the socio-cultural reality, and encourage students to make a difference.

Critical pedagogy exists in this conception. The curriculum is a means to control individuals, but social reconstructionists use it to liberate people. The emanicipatory curriculum has been used to free the oppressed from oppressors (Friere, 1970).
The systemic is quite the opposite of the social reconstructionist conceptualization of the curriculum. The theme of the systemic curriculum is control. The No Child Left Behind Act (2001) fits within this conception. Everyone should have equal access to an education, and everyone can and will learn.

This conceptualization birthed the standards based-movement. They believe if standards are implemented with an accountability system in place, students have no choice but to learn. The curriculum is backloaded, and outcomes are particularly important in measuring the value of the curriculum. Therefore, “teaching to the test” is also a product of the systemic conception (McNeil, 2009).

Finally, the academic curriculum focuses on necessary knowledge needed spring forward into the workforce. This conception acknowledges change, and seeks to form a foundation that can be used in various disciplines. Students should learn to ask questions, hypothesize, synthesize, execute scientific procedures, and apply their skills in new contexts.

Bruner’s (1960) structure of the disciplines fits nicely in this conceptualization. Bruner asserts that learning methods for inquiry in a variety of disciplines will prepares students for an unknown future. Some subjects have universal value, and can be applied in many situations. Essentially, students learn how to learn, thereby preparing them for problems in the future not yet imagined. 
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© 2011 Chase J. Young. All rights reserved.