Disrupting the Utilitarian Paradigm: Teachers Doing Curriculum Inquiry

Disrupting the Utilitarian Paradigm: Teachers Doing Curriculum Inquiry

Pamela Bolotin Joseph (University of Washington Bothell, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61350-495-6.ch022
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The purpose of this chapter is to explain the importance of curriculum inquiry for teacher change and the development of curriculum leaders. The author depicts the utilitarian or standardized management paradigm that dominates United States education and then explores the nature of curriculum inquiry, considering why such study helps educators become critically conscious of dominant assumptions and policies that influence their teaching and their schools. Drawing from reflections from “lived curriculum investigations,” the chapter illustrates how teachers recognize, question, and challenge previously unexamined norms, and practices. Moreover, the author explains how reflection, transformative learning, affect, and experience support teacher change and why curriculum inquiry is a crucial component of teachers’ identities as curriculum workers — educators who are transformative intellectuals and curriculum leaders. This chapter concludes with consideration of another type of curriculum inquiry, “curriculum worker portraits,” to study the beliefs and practices of innovative educators.
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The Utilitarian Paradigm

Critical curriculum scholars view contemporary education in the United States as characterized by the omnipresent utilitarian or “standardized management paradigm” (Henderson & Gornik, 2007) imbued with a top-down curriculum planning focused on “how best to improve student performance in standardized tests” and “methods such as memorization, drill, test preparation, and other related types of learning activities that it is believed help students perform well on standardized tests” (Heyer & Pifel, 2007, p. 569). Moreover, schooling to serve and emulate industry has led to a contraction of the curriculum so that the underlying mission of schooling has become passing standardized tests instead of the development of well-rounded individuals or informed citizens. As a result, there neither is interest in creating curriculum for students to study meaningful questions based on their curiosity about the world nor helping learners to imagine how they could change the world. Similarly, there is no debate within conventional schooling about the possibilities of education as a catalyst for the transformation of individuals or for social reform.

Such limited aims have had devastating consequences affecting children’s educational experiences and creating inequality of school resources and opportunities. Likewise, curriculum – as an imaginative concept that attends to learners’ experiences as well as the enduring consequences of education for individuals or society – does not enter contemporary political discussions focused on “accountability,” “competition,” and “achieving excellence.” The situation has become a “nightmare that is the present state of pubic miseducation” (Pinar, 2004, p. 5).

In this paradigm, the curriculum is narrowed as high standards become equated with standardized curriculum — thus leading to standardized tests as the prime means of measuring student achievement of standards. Consequent outcomes are teaching to the test, curriculum fragmentation, scripted curriculum, disregard of content or goals deemed untestable, and diminishment of high-quality instruction. Critics note that No Child Left Behind legislation that influences all of public schooling actually makes it harder for states to improve the quality of teaching” as tests are influenced by “a narrow view of what constitutes learning” (Darling-Hammond, 2007, p. 14) and do not assess for “higher-order thinking” (Neill, 2003, p. 225). “The mandated testing regimen require[es] teachers to reconfigure nearly every teaching or planning moment into a form of test preparation” (Symcox, 2009, p. 59) as “teaching to the test substitutes for deeper intellectual inquiry” (Sleeter, 2008, p. 148).

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