Perspective Images of Curriculum (Schubert)

The purpose of this chapter is to sketch with broad strokes the academic area that, during the past century, has come to be known as the curriculum field. While some who technically differentiate terms such as field, discipline, and area of study debate whether curriculum really is a field (see Westbury and Steimer, 1971; Jackson, 1980), use of the term curriculum field is widespread. This usage generally denotes the range of theorists, practitioners, and researchers who devote most of their professional time and energy to proposing, developing, studying, defending, and/or criticizing the content and experiences taught and learned in schools and other educative situations. What kinds of images of curriculum exist in the curriculum field? How is curriculum related to other subfields of education? What subfields of specialized concern exist within the curriculum field? What resources are available to enable one to find one’s way around the curriculum field? These are the main questions that this chapter is designed to address.

A quick survey of a dozen curriculum books would be likely to reveal a dozen different images or characterizations of curriculum. It might even reveal more, because the same author may use the term in different ways. Authors may intentionally provide different images of curriculum to portray what others have said or to represent different conceptualizations of curriculum; or they may do so without realization and thus provide inconsistency or contradiction. I use the terms image and characterization rather than definition because they denote a broader conceptualization than the label for a thing. To make curriculum an object reduces its richness and rules out presentation of certain key conceptualizations that are essential to an understanding of the field.
To analyze and discuss all of the images that have been advanced would be a massive undertaking, since more than eleven hundred curriculum books have been written in the present century (Schubert, 1980a, p. 11). Moreover, the scholarly worth of such an endeavor would be dubious. What can be done more economically is to categorize major conceptions of curriculum, with examples, intents, and criticisms of each.*
Curriculum as Content or Subject Matter
The most traditional image of curriculum stems back to antiquity and the seven liberal arts, usually divided into the trivium (grammar, rhetoric, and dialectic) and the quadrivium (arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music). Curriculum is equated with the subjects to be taught.
Examples. Today, if one asks administrators of secondary or elementary schools to describe their curriculum, they usually expound a litany of subjects taught and times that they are offered. In my years as an elementary school teacher, “curriculum night” was an evening early in the school year in which teachers explained the curriculum to parents. Most parents actually expected a rendition of the daily schedule and an explanation of how this routine made sense as an overall program of subject matter.

Intent. Educators who use this image intend to explicate clearly the network of subjects taught, interpretations given to those subjects, prerequisite knowledge for studying certain subjects, and a rationale for the ways in which all subjects at a particular level of school fit together and provide what is needed at that level. Needs may be defined by programmatic labels such as college preparatory, commercial curriculum, general studies,
advanced placement, remedial, honors, and so on.

Criticism. The exclusive focus on subjects does not account for other planned or unplanned activities that are a major part of students’ experiences in schools. In fact, it only accounts for topics to be covered and neglects such important dimensions as cognitive development, creative expression, and personal growth. There is much more involved in planning than the subject to be taught. Instructional strategies, sequencing
procedures, the scope of the subject, motivational devices, evaluation instruments, and interpretations of content are but a sample of planned attributes that make an immense difference in the character of a subject. Unplanned aspects such as the student’s prior knowledge, student attitude about the subject and learning, teacher attitude and mode of interaction with students, students’ interactions with each other, and messages about learning conveyed by the social, organizational, and physical features of the learning environment are powerful forces in what is learned. Likewise, the many informal social interactions among
students in corridors, on playgrounds, and during lunch and free periods, as well as the formal organizations and events that make up extracurricular features of education, are major factors in what is learned. Thus, an image that equates curriculum with subject matter or formal content is easy to use but it simplifies and limits the problem too much. Schools provide learnings for students that go far beyond the confines of subject matter. Such learnings, as well as those unintended and embedded in the culture of schooling, must be included to give us a comprehensive view of curriculum.
Curriculum as a Program of Planned Activities
By focusing on a comprehensive view of all activities planned for delivery to students, this image of curriculum incorporates scope and sequence, interpretation and balance of subject matter, motivational devices, teaching techniques, and anything else that can be planned in advance. This view of curriculum as a plan is embraced by Saylor, Alexander, and Lewis (1981). The nature of a plan can be quite wide ranging. One way to view the extensiveness of this concept is from two extremes, one viewing curriculum as a written document (Beauchamp, 1981) and the other accepting plans that are in the minds of educators but remain unwritten. P. H. Taylor (1970), for example, has carefully observed teacher planning of courses and has emphasized that while it may involve written notes, much teaching is based on a curriculum of unwritten plans.
Examples. Written documents range from daily lesson plans to curriculum guides. Anyone who has passed through a teacher education program knows what a lesson plan is and can quickly recall its familiar categories: general purpose, specific goals, materials needed, procedures, evaluation, and so on. Curriculum guides are usually constructed locally by school administrators and/or districtwide committees of teachers, administrators, and sometimes outside consultants and community representatives. Some guides are rather brief and give the “bare-bones” structure of what is to be covered in each subject at given grade levels. Others are exceedingly elaborate and provide background information for teachers, and suggest teaching strategies, arrangements for learning environments, supplementary materials, outside resources, and modes of evaluation. Larger school districts often have sizable central office staffs and produce many curriculum guides for different subject matter areas. University libraries compile collections of these guides to supplement teacher education programs. Projects are now available that provide curriculum guides on microfiche. Teachers’ manuals for published textbooks and other instructional materials serve as another version of curriculum guides. Although they usually do not unify curriculum areas into an overall programmatic thrust, as do locally designed guides, they provide a great deal of extra material for teachers to use as they organize their classroom and think about the specifics of teaching a lesson or unit. Some school systems legislate specific requirements that teachers must cover a certain number of activities from the guide or be at a certain page or chapter in the textbooks by specified dates. Others recognize curriculum guides and textbooks as helpful resources rather than mandates to follow to the letter. Those who have taught for several years know that planning is a great deal more than that which is written down. I recall, for example, team teaching situations in which teachers would discuss possible courses of action and arrive at a plan. The plan would be implemented, each teacher doing his or her part, and nothing would be written down. Teachers will sometimes get bright ideas on the spur of the moment or will have to change plans in midstream because of altered circumstances (an unannounced assembly, student lack of responsiveness, unavailable equipment). Teachers may do a great deal of planning while driving to and from work or when
pondering the next day just before falling asleep at night. These and similar activities are all plans, yet they may never be written.
Intent. The common thread in all of these notions of planning, written or unwritten, is that they are planned activities. As in the case with elaborate curriculum guides, there is more provided than activities; however, the end of planning is to see that certain desired activities are delivered to students. Granted, all these plans have purposes for which the activities are the vehicle. Yet it is the activity-what students do-that is the curriculum.
Criticism. To characterize curriculum as planned activities is to place major emphasis on outward appearance rather than inner development. It values outcomes and neglects the learning process. Emphasis on activities implies that more careful attention should be given to ends than means. For example, many teachers and school districts are so intent on seeing that certain activities are implemented that the activities become ends in themselves. There is a tendency to lose sight of purposes that the activities serve, such as their impact on the learning process or personal meaning. Attention to prespecified activities obscures consequences that cannot be readily anticipated. For example, twenty children who engage in the same creative writing activity have twenty quite different responses. Thus, it may be more sensible to focus
on what each student experiences than on the planned activity itself.
Curriculum as Intended Learning Outcomes
Some authors (Johnson, 1977a; Posner, 1982) contend that curriculum should not be the activities but should focus directly on the intended learning outcomes. This shifts emphasis from means to ends. Intended learning outcomes are a convenient way to specify purposes. Purposes no longer remain stated in such global rhetoric as, “an appreciation for our cultural heritage.” Instead, a structured series or sequence of learning outcomes is set forth; all activities, teaching, environmental design, and the like serve the acquisition of specified ends. Intended learning outcomes are not precisely equated with curriculum; rather curriculum is the realm of intentionality that fosters the intended learning outcomes.
Examples. An intended learning outcome in a high school social studies class may be to identify the arguments for and against the buildup of nuclear armaments. The curriculum design would detail all the materials, plans, and arrangements that would enable students to do this. The process of determining, designing, and realizing intents would, of course, involve a great deal of analysis of contextual and philosophical factors. Intent. The purpose is to be explicit and defensible regarding what is offered to
Criticisms. Focus on intended learning outcomes as the prime factor in curriculum draws attention away from the unintended outcomes, which many claim are an exceedingly powerful force in what students learn in schools. These are outcomes of the culture of schooling or hidden curriculum. While all the students in a class may demonstrate that they have acquired the intended learning outcome, the consequences of its acquisition may be quite different from one student to another. Knowledge that helps one student when it combines with the rest of his or her cognitive and affective repertoire may be enlightening, while the same intended learning outcome may indeed be harmful to another student. Less harmful, but still quite powerful, is the impact that differing organizational environments and instructional strategies can have on an outcome. The same intended outcome may become quite different when taught by an inquiry, simulation, and lecture method. The central point here is that intended results may be very different from actual ones, even within a group of students who seem to have acquired the intended outcomes.
Curriculum as Cultural Reproduction
Some hold that curriculum in any society or culture is and should be a reflection of that culture. The job of schooling is to reproduce salient knowledge and values for the succeeding generation. The community, state, or nation takes the lead in identifying the skills, knowledge, and appreciations to be taught. It is the job of professional educators to see that they are transformed into a curriculum that can be delivered to children and youth.
Examples. The patriotic events of national history; the dominant economic system whether communistic, capitalistic, or another; the cultural conventions, mores, and folkways; the religious values in parochial schools or in public schools where no separation of church and state exists.

Intent. In advanced industrial societies, it is impossible for parents who have specialized jobs themselves to teach adequately all the complicated capabilities that their children need. Moreover, in earning a living, they scarcely have the time to do so, even if they do have the knowledge, inclination, and ability. Thus, they need special institutions to reproduce the culture for their children.

Criticisms. To hold that curriculum should be uncritical cultural reproduction assumes that the status quo is good enough (i.e., that cultural and social improvements are not needed). As argued by Apple (1979), Anyon (1980), Giroux (1983), and others, the problem runs much deeper than simply asserting that the status quo is perpetuated; they identify massive inequities associated with prolonging unjust social hierarchies. The wealthy and powerful remain in control of middle and working classes; they, along with the poor and destitute, remain unable to grow and develop as human beings who can govern their own lives. It is, of course, a mistake to view impositions of cultural reproduction as uncontested (Apple and Weis, 1983). Oppressed persons find ways to resist. Yet, when educators tacitly assume that schools are powerless to influence social or cultural change, they perpetuate existing injustices. The question is not whether schools alone can change a society, but whether they, as one of many institutions in a society, can exert forces for greater freedom, equality, and justice. To claim that institutions within a society are less powerful than the society itself misses the point that a society is a composite of institutions and individuals who all contribute to the character and dynamic of the whole.
Curriculum as Experience
The idea that curriculum should be a set of activities or predetermined ends was resisted by John Dewey, who advocated a means-ends continuum. This position holds that educational means and ends are inseparable parts of a single process: experience. To attend to one’s experience reflectively and to strive continuously to anticipate and monitor the consequences of one’s thought and action relative to the good that they bring is a continuously evolving curriculum. The teacher is a facilitator of personal growth, and the curriculum is the process of experiencing the sense of meaning and direction that ensues from teacher and student dialogue.

Examples. Learners are seen as vast reservoirs of potential. In his or her own way, eachblearner is deemed unique and worthwhile. Teachers and learners discuss the importance of determining worthwhile activities; however, the notion of activity is not as central to this definition of curriculum as is the concept of experience. Ralph Tyler (1949) contrasted course content and activities with learning experience. Learning experience is the curriculum that students actually come to know or realize. It is a function of purposes; content or activity; organizational patterns of persons; instructional materials; instructional practices; evaluation modes; and hopes, desires, and philosophies of educators. Yet learning experience is to be
equated with none of these, for it is fashioned finally when it meets the experiential repertoire of the learner. The same plans will often have quite different consequences when actualized as experience amid the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and values of different learners.

Intent. Curriculum as actual learning experiences is an attempt to grasp what is learned rather than to take for granted that the planned intents are in fact learned. Experiences are created as learners reflect on the processes in which they engage. Curriculum is meaning experienced by students, not facts to be memorized or behaviors to be demonstrated. While ideals are indeed indispensable in giving direction to action, they are fashioned as teachers and learners interact amid a milieu and with subject matter that gives substance to learning. Four commonplaces of curricula. experience are set forth by Schwab (1973): teacher, learner, subject matter, and milieu. Whenever a change occurs in any one or a combination of these commonplaces, and such alterations are always occurring, the curricular consequences change that meet the learner and
his or her storehouse of experience. Thus, ends and means are united in constant interaction. The perceptive educator, as collaborator with the learner, must artistically facilitate the learner’s search for experiences that contribute to personal growth.

Criticism. While curriculum as personal experience and growth sounds wonderful in principle, it is impossible in practice. Given the realities of the teaching situation, how can one high school teacher who meets 150 or more students per day enter into dialogue with each one and work out a curriculum for personal growth? Although a bit more feasible, how can an elementary school teacher do this with 30 students? Even when considering a small enough group, say, less than 10 students, one might be able to plan a personalized curriculum with each, but it is impossible to get inside of each student’s being well enough to know the consequences of teacher, other learners, subject matter, and milieu on his or her personality, character, outlook, beliefs, behavior, and so on. For the same reasons, this conception of
curriculum is so broad that it defies research. How could one ever study the short- and longterm consequences of the totality of school experience on the whole of the prior experience of the learner?

Curriculum as Discrete Tasks and Concepts
The curriculum is seen as a set of tasks to be mastered, and they are assumed to lead to a prespecified end. Usually, that end has specific behavioral interpretation such as learning a new task or performing an old one better. This approach derives from training programs in business, industry, and the military.

Examples. Acquisition of rules of grammar, mathematical algorithms, penmanship style, or phonics rules at the elementary school level and in occupational training, learning a new system of filing for an office, a new maneuver with a military vehicle, the operation of a new machine for folding envelopes in a stationery factory, or running a program with a microcomputer are carefully specified at a defined level of performance. Potential learners are pretested to assess the level of knowledge of the desired skill that they possess and perhaps their aptitude for acquiring it as well. Minutely detailed sequences of learning tasks are identified that build the larger skill; these are implemented and, eventually, posttests are

Intent. Just as a skill may be defined in terms of its constituent behaviors, knowledge and appreciation can be analyzed in terms of the affective, cognitive, psychomotor, and social concepts that characterize it.

Criticism. While task analysis may be highly appropriate for learning certain mechanical activities, it is very limited. The whole of most tasks, even mechanical ones, is greater than the sum of its parts. Therefore, a simple additive set of procedures may produce the appearance of a skill well learned, but it will not provide for variation that is so essential in our changing world. This requires a knowledge ofprinciples, not isolated skills or even concepts. Even more difficulty is found in the assertion that more sophisticated knowledge and appreciation can be derived from training. The ancient Greeks called this procedural knowledge techne, and they contrasted it to arete which refers to the quest for excellence, virtue, and goodness. Although concept analyses are available on the appreciation of, say, impressionist painting, and they may convey certain rules or criteria to observe, they could never provide an adequate substitute for the educated imagination that comes from careful study and considerable experience with that which is to be discussed or appraised.

Curriculum as an Agenda for Social Reconstruction
Dare the School Build a New Social Order? This is the title of a book by George S. Counts (1932b), one of the fathers of the social reconstructionist position in education. Championed by Theodore Brameld in the 1940s and 1950s, and inspired by many of Dewey’s works, this view of curriculum holds that schools should provide an agenda of knowledge and values that guides students to improve society and the cultural institutions, beliefs, and activities that support it.

Examples. Application may begin within the school itself. Students are given a major role in planning and implementing life in the school. They address what the purpose of schools should be, and they develop and defend a design to implement that purpose. Another variation involves students in the identification and study of major national and international issues, the result of which would be activist participation. Still another interpretation is that educators and students would determine utopian plans for a better world. In any of these alternatives, the purpose of schooling is to improve the social order (e.g., to prepare students who enter the world with a fervor to provide greater racial equity or more empathic understanding among
wealthy, middle, working, and poor classes of people).

Intent. Based on the assumptions that no culture or society is perfect and that the purpose of education is to improve it, the cultural reconstructionist sets out to build a better society. The orientation may involve considerable input from students, or it may be dominated by educator decisions about how students should be taught to reconstruct society. The methodology may range from teaching students desirable changes that should be made to equipping them with critical thinking abilities and a desire to ask and act on the question: What should be changed, how, and why? In either case, the curriculum is an agenda for
cultural reconstruction.
Criticism. It is doubtful that schools, large but not particularly influential institutions, are politically powerful enough to exert major social changes. If they would become powerful enough to do so, the desire of educators to foist their political beliefs on children and youth is tantamount to indoctrination of a very serious kind. It sparks the memory of youth in totalitarian nations who are brainwashed to support a revolution or to spy on their own families and report infractions of rules. Even in less severe cases, the question arises as to the right of educators to play deity in the dictating of social change.

Curriculum as “Currere”
One of the most recent positions to emerge on the curriculum horizon is to emphasize the verb form of curriculum, namely, currere. Instead of taking its interpretation from the race course etymology of curriculum, currere refers to the running of the race and emphasizes the individual’s own capacity to reconceptualize his or her autobiography. Illustrated by Pinar and Grumet (1976), the individual seeks meaning amid the swirl of present events, moves historically into his or her own past to recover and reconstitute origins, and imagines and creates possible directions of his or her own future. Based on the sharing of autobiographical accounts with others who strive for similar understanding, the curriculum becomes a reconceiving of one’s perspective on life (Grumet, 1980). It also becomes a social process
whereby individuals come to greater understanding of themselves, others, and the world through mutual reconceptualization. The mutuality involves not only those who are in immediate proximity but occurs through the acquisition of extant knowledge and acquaintance with literary and artistic expression. The central focus, however, is autobiographical. The curriculum is the interpretation of lived experiences.

Examples. Students write autobiographical accounts that focus on striving to know who, how, and why they have developed as they have. Teachers and/or other students respond through written or oral comment on the writing. Dialogue ensues and creates reconceived visions of self, others, and the world. Relevant literature is introduced, and the curriculum becomes the process of reconceptualization.

Intent. The purpose of reconceptualization is individual emancipation from the constraints of unwarranted convention, ideology, and psychological unidimensionality. It is to explore other provinces of meaning, to envision possibilities, and to fashion new directions for oneself, others, and the world, through mutual reconceptualization.
Criticism. This striving for self-knowledge cannot be done in schools by teachers and students. It requires the intense expertise of a psychiatrist, psychoanalyst, or other professional therapist. Even if it could be done in schools, it should not be, for it goes far beyond the purpose of schools to transmit knowledge, skills, and values of a culture. Children and youth need objective knowledge. Self-understanding is a parental and personal responsibility, not that of the government or other agencies that sponsor schools.

Continuing the Images Debate
Each of the images of curriculum just presented ends with a critical assessment. You should not be swayed unduly by the argument advanced, and you certainly should not conclude that because of the existing disagreement none of the positions have merit. The statements of intent and the examples make clear some of the positive features of each image. The reader is challenged to imagine a continued debate. How would a proponent of each of the images respond to the criticisms raised? How might the conflicting positions be productively analyzed? One way is to identify the metaphors that they utilize. In a brief but powerful article, Kliebard (1972) emphasizes that we think in metaphors. He characterizes three root metaphors found in curriculum literature and practice: production, growth, and journey. Production provides an industrial model that envisions the student as raw material to be transformed by a skilled technician who uses rigorously planned specifications, avoids waste, and carefully sees to it that the raw materials are used for the purposes that best fit them. The growth metaphor perceives the teacher as an insightful gardener, who carefully gets to know the unique character of the plants (students) and nurtures their own special kind of flowering. In the travel metaphor, the teacher is a tour guide who leads students through a terrain rich in
knowledge, skills, ideas, appreciations, and attitudes. The tour guide knows that each traveler will respond differently to the trip because of his or her unique configuration of background, ability, interests, aptitudes, and purposes.
The etymological origins of curriculum as the course of a chariot race might lead one to believe that a travel metaphor is closest to the original. The original, however, is not sacred, and we must be willing to alter meanings as knowledge and ideas improve. This notwithstanding, I encourage you to return to each of the characterizations and ask whether it is best represented by the production, growth, travel metaphor, or perhaps a different metaphor that you invent. Perhaps, too, each is a combination of several metaphors. It might be the case that the original journey metaphor is sufficiently comprehensive to incorporate each of
Kliebard’s metaphors. While it is obvious, for example, that travel is a journey from place to place, growth is a journey in which the self expands, differentiates, and becomes more complexly integrated (Hopkins, 1954). Production is a journey from raw material to sophisticated product.
Just as we have emphasized that curriculum knowledge as a whole is problematic, is it also contributory to conceptual richness to have several extant images of curriculum? Might this invigorate debate? Or, as some suggest (Johnson, 1977b), is it stupid to posit the existence of a field of study when its members cannot agree on the definition of what is studied? Might a reasonable compromise be to argue that different images are needed for different purposes? As you look back at the characterizations provided, can you state a practical situation in which each of the images would be useful? In other words, might each image be appropriate to some aspects of the curriculum realm but not to others? Here, the parable of the blind men and the elephant seems fitting. Each of several blind men touched a different part of the elephant; one grasped the leg and concluded that an elephant was like a tree, another examined the trunk and described the elephant as a large snake, another touched an ear and thought of a huge fan, still another felt the tusks and likened the elephant to a sharp spear. Could it be that staunch advocates of one image of curriculum
are only examining one of many facets of the entire realm? Should we continue to cultivate a variety of images in an effort to move closer to an understanding of the whole picture of curriculum? Or do some images contradict and rule out the use of others.

Schubert, W. H. (1986). Curriculum: Perspective, paradigm and possibility. New York: Macmillan

6 thoughts on “Perspective Images of Curriculum (Schubert)”
  1. Thanks to this summary of the 8 images of curriculum by Schubert. I lost my book by Schubert, so this is a good replacement because I will be using this for my presentation. All teachers follow a curriculum or curricula from their schools or department of education, but they have to be aware of these images so when asked why they are planning, teaching, or letting students do activities, they know how to rationalize; nevertheless, this didn’t happen while evaluating teachers. I’m a retired vice-principal.

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