Curriculum is Political: Where does that Leave Teachers?

TBH: before this education degree, I hardly ever spared a thought as to how school curricula was developed. If I ever did, what probably came to mind was a boardroom full of specialists, most looking something either like Arthur Schlesinger Jr. or Margaret Thatcher, all bowties and pants-suits, with maybe the odd presence of an elbow-padded, mustachioed grade school administrator, à la Principle Prickly of Disney’s Recess fame. As to how they came up with the document: maybe something like an adult version of Think Pair Share.

In any event, the fact that I have to imagine how I thought school curricula was cooked up is quite the testament to how little I thought about it to begin with. Upon entering this program, however, the notion that curriculum is a political document has been driven home in a number of courses. I was therefore already ideologically primed for Ben Levin’s article “The Curriculum Policy of What Should Be Learned in Schools.” What I found notable about Levin’s article was not the assertion that curriculum is political, but rather his meticulous outlining of just how political it really is (spoiler: completely, with countless parties competing for influence). The following quotation really sums it up. Keep in mind, while reading, that curriculum is in essence a government document:

As soon as a government is elected, various groups try to influence its agenda in accord with their own. This is in many ways the essence of the political process. It means that politicians are constantly bombarded with requests or demands to do things, stop doing things, increase funding, decrease funding, pass legislation, repeal other legislation, and so on. As populations have become better educated and better organized, the number and intensity of the pres- sures on politicians has risen. (Levin, p. 11)

(^Shout out to my limited publishing skills: can’t figure out how to indent the above quote.)

If curriculum is truly a government document, though (Levin takes great care to demonstrate that it is), what I am conflicted with is the role that teachers have in implementing this document in the classroom. Teachers, after all, are not elected officials. Nevertheless, Levin suggests that teachers’ “habits” and “working day to day practices” will limit the chances that drastic curriculum changes will come into effect. To what extent should teachers (as specialists, but nonelected specialists) have the right to bend curriculum to suit their classroom needs?




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