Saturday, November 12, 2005

28] Curriculum and Postmodernism

ON CURRERE: CONTEXT, COMPLEXITY, AND CHAOS IN ITS CONCEPTUALIZATION by AZLY ABDUL RAHMAN Rather than take the position of encapsulating the authors’ viewpoints in Perrenialist, Essentialists, Progressivist, Postmodernist, or Multicultural moulds, I reflect upon the unity in themes and speculate on their differences in these brief reflection notes. We first look at the authors’ varying claims. Dewey (Ch. 7) sees the importance of a progressive organization of subject matter; Taylor (Introduction and Ch. 5) instructed readers to organize themselves into communities to look at how students’ experience can be enriched; Connelly and Clandinin (pp. Ix-10) implicitly asked us to organize our way of perceiving curriculum so that it become metacognitive, metaphorical, and mass-dominated (as opposed to elitist-dominated); Campbell (Ch.12) sees multiculturalism as a potential avenue to organize our educational philosophical obligations for a society demanding such changes; and finally Slattery (Ch.3) invites us to organize our thoughts amidst the chaos and complexity of our postmodern condition. In short, “organize” and its variant “organization” is the key terms, which unite the viewpoints. Like it was once said that “All roads lead to Rome”, the pedagogical pathways championed by the authors attempt to suggest ways the human experience can be objectified so that he/she may understand “reality out there” through the organized educational process called “schooling”. In this process the currere is conceived as a racecourse in which thoroughbreds have presumably been prepared to “race” with each other in the game called life in a race called “human race”. Tyler seemed to echo Dewey in his tone of writing about progressive organization of subject matter. Like Dewey he denounced the exaggerated distinction between Essentialism and Progressivism in educational philosophical demarcations. Tyler in fact took a neutral stand in introducing other perspectives such as Social Reconstructionism, Perennialism, and Romanticism. Like Dewey however, he insisted and instructed upon orderliness in the presenting of subject matter, much in the logical-positivist paradigm and called for a cooperative and empowering effort by the school decision-making members to “attack” curriculum that has been passed down from cultural tradition so that it may be enriched to the desirable ends befitting students’ interests. In Dewey and Taylor we find the absence of discussions on the complexity of reality and knowledge source and multi-facetness of learner behavior. In the Tylerian and Deweyian worldview of curriculum, a body of knowledge is already present and agreed upon for the sustenance of society and for scientific, social, cultural, economic, and political reproduction; -- the question lies only in how they are to be contextualized, organized, enriched, and transmitted to the living and partial “tabula rasas” almost most oftentimes housed within four walls called classroom, so that education may take its meaning. Status quo is to be maintained and “denying the past and historical tradition” (whatever history means and according to and for whom it is written) is never an issue. Perhaps Tyler and Dewey were entirely relevant at the time, in the Roosevelt Era of The New Deal, whence United States was in the full force of industrialization with the Scientific Management of Frederick Taylor the main philosophy to drive America’s engine of growth. Perhaps Dewey was necessary as a powerful mediator between the tension inherent in the industrial-capitalist ideology and the anarcho-syndicalist Labor movement ideology, which was threatening the nation into Depression. Had not Roosevelt brought America to World War 2 after Russian had lost 20 million of its people, the country would have fallen into internal chaos. Thus, education as an enterprise for human capital and social reproduction needed philosophers to articulate the demands of such an age of chaos and complexity. It is no different in the late 1990s with ideas such as Total Quality Schools, the Accountability, and “Back to Basics” movements inherent, and well illustrated in documents such as those which appeared during the Sputnik era, and in Ronald Reagan’s A Nation at Risk, and in contemporary suggestions for educational visioning such as America 2000: Developing America’s Talents. And if the unity in theme in the authors’ expose of what currere in education is, is in the idea of “organize” and the “organization of experiences” to be subjectivized and objectified in the process of schooling through the use of curriculum, the breaking away of the themes lies in the question of experience itself. Slattery, Connelly& Clandinin, and Campbell, writing to a degree or another within the postmodern tradition extended the Tyler-Dewey notion of the debate on how experience should be organized. For the postmodernist writers, the question of ideology, power, class, race, ethnicity, and gender are brought into play when describing the politics and philosophy of knowledge as well as the nature of “lived experience. The postmodernist view is attractive as it relates to the contemporary world; a world of experience described in terminologies such as “reflectivity”, “subalterns”, meta-narratives” gaia consciousness” “androgyny”, “voices” and others postmodern in character. How do we conceptualize curriculum in this age of chaos and complexity? In this age of hyper-reality and cyber-communities, questions of further redefining “schooling”, “training”, “educating”, and “experiencing” seem all the more pressing. As they are, “to be schooled”, “to be trained” “to be educated”, “to be experiencing” – all these carry differing epistemological and axiological connotations. They force us to bring in Dewey, Kandel, Kilpatrick, Carnoy, Bowles and Gintis, Leonard, Counts,Friere, Derrida, Rorty and a range of others into the educational philosophical debate in determining what the destiny of the human race would be in his/her existence as “beings” subjected to “schooling” via the “employing of curriculum” in his/her travelling in the pathway to become authentic, thinking, feeling, and philosophizing beings in this challenging age of Simulacra, Techno-surrealism, mass consumption --- in a postmodern “throw-away” society.

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AZLY RAHMAN is an educator, academic, international columnist, and author of nine books on Malaysia and Global Affairs. He grew up in Johor Bahru, Malaysia and holds a Columbia University doctorate in international education development and Master’s degrees in six areas: education, international affairs, peace studies communication, fiction and non-fiction writing. Twitter @azlyrahman.