What is knowledge? Who determines what knowledge is? Who determines what knowledge is worthy to know? These are daunting questions to inquire; however, while these questions have persisted over the years, they have impacted how education is perceived, conceived and received. Curriculum has transformed over the years based on the ideas of what curriculum comprises. Theorists paradigms and ideologies have contributed to this shift in curriculum. Their ideologies have spurred great change and upheaval in how teachers educate students in America. This shift in curriculum has involved differing views, practices, and ideologies to address how to prepare children for their civic duties as American citizens. As one who was raised under the mindset of knowledge is power; this phrase has impacted how I view learning and the importance of getting an understanding of what we know. I was and continue to be an inquisitive student who asks a lot of questions at home and at school. Unbeknownst to me, I used the Socratic Method quite often. The desire to know more because knowing more gives you power. The theorists Ive read about have intriguing ideas and I acknowledge my beliefs align with a few of them. The impact of these philosophers ideas and mindsets have influenced educators, myself included, in how we teach and implement curriculum in their classes. Philosophy plays a vital part in establishing what curriculum to implement and how it is implemented. It is imperative to recognize how the past and current philosophical perceptions impact the basis for how and what curriculum is implemented. Philosophical perceptions provide a basis for establishing which curriculum is endorsed. As I approach this task of discussing the ways in which curriculum studies and disability studies can help me create a culturally relevant pedagogy and classroom for students of color, I must consider my background beliefs and teachings. I propose that a curriculum is a framework of concepts organized in a structured manner to address a content or body of knowledge systematically to include academic content and moral education buttressed on the social and political foundations of the society. Teachers tend to teach the content in alignment to the varying stages of child development to ensure that students are able to grasp the concepts being presented. I will review various theorists and their view of curriculum studies and disabilities studies. I will review how they can help with using culturally relevant pedagogies in the classroom.
What is Curriculum Studies?
In the curriculum field, theorists have focused on several paradigms and perspectives like: intellectual traditionalist, social behaviorist, experientialist, critical Reconstructionist, postmodernism, hermeneutic, eclectic, anti-imperialist, decolonizing, multiculturalism, cross-cultural, intercultural, and transcultural (Pinar et. al., 1995). The focus for this section will be on the history of three prevalent paradigms: intellectual traditionalist, social behaviorists, and experientialists. They will build background on the development and transformation of curriculum.
Prior to 19th century, theorists discussed what subjects to teach, how to teach it, and the order in which to teach the content. Historical philosophers such as Socrates, Aristotle, Plato, Spinoza, Comenius, and Descartes and others were influential on what many theorists developed for education whether it was a classical, traditional education or a scientific, experiential education. The European influences of the Renaissance, Reformation, and Enlightenment periods impacted the development of the American curriculum. Longstanding intellectual traditionalists had prevalent ideals which emphasized knowing the classics of grammar, music, literature, civics, and intellectual development. Such intellectual traditionalists, William James, Edward L. Thorndike and others focused on science, mathematics, and mind psychology. (Kliebard, 2004; Pinar, et al., 1995)
Additionally, a variation of intellectual traditionalism was present by various theorists in education which referenced the Committed of Ten and the Committee of Fifteen. Such theorists as Horace Mann and Henry Barnard were instrumental in promoting education for all students through the Common Schools. The principle of the Common School was to provide education to all students as an equalizer to foster communities with citizens able to participate in democratic discourse (Willis et.al., 1993/1994). During this time period, theorists considered what information was worth knowing, what information was beneficial for the student and for society overall.
As education evolved, the narratives among theorists shifted to include more of the social needs of the students and industries along with research-based measures. This was notably referred to as social behaviorism. Theorists that were social behaviorists believed in examining successful people, identifying their skill sets and knowledge base. Theorist engaged in a more systematic approach as was more evident especially with the works of Ralph Tyler. He was instrumental in paving the way for organizing and compartmentalizing education into purpose, activities, organization, and evaluation. Many theorists followed or modified his model: Tanner and Tanner, Miller and Seller, and Saylor to name a few (Pinar et. al., 1995).
Comparable with the social behaviorists, the experientialists emerged with a focus on examining learning from lifes experiences and ones insight along with connecting others experiences and actively engaging students in their learning. John Dewey was far ahead of his time in espousing that children and teachers learn from their experiences and interactions. European educators Pestalozzi, Froebel, and Montessori influenced John Dewey. Many people considered his approach to learning as pragmatic and democratic. Similarly, William Kilpatrick, a student of John Dewey, advocated for a child-centered and democratic education. George Counts and Harold Rugg expanded the scientific curriculum. These academics provided invaluable contributions to curriculum education (Kliebard, 2004; Marshall et. al. 2007). The transformation of the curriculum in education is an ongoing and ever-evolving process as theorists expound and elaborate on what content areas students necessitate.
Furthermore, in varying eras, theorists explored the intellectual training of students. Fraser (2010) examined several authors and factors that impacted education throughout the United States. In many cases the plight of Black students education was documented. He noted the works of Booker T. Washington and W.E. B. DuBois and their influence on education. Washington assessed the growing number of Negroes in the South and supported the necessity of educating them based on their families tenaciousness through the years of challenges from slavery along with the resulting toils of life they endured.
Further, I know that almost every other race that has tried to look the white man in the face has disappeared. I know, despite all the conflicting opinions, and with a full knowledge of all the Negroes weaknesses, that only a few centuries ago they went into slavery in this country pagans, that they came out Christians; they went into slavery as so much property, they came out American citizens; they went into slavery without a language, they came out speaking the proud Anglo-Saxon tongue; they went into slavery with the chains clanking about their wrists, they came out with American ballots in their hands. (Fraser, 2010, p120)
Washington looked at how educating resilient Negroes would benefit the nation. He rationalized that as Negroes worked hard and flourished in the industrial arena they would prove an asset to a democratic country. The Blacks ability to persist despite the hardship of slavery and discrimination attests to their continued perseverance.
Likewise, Fraser (2010) goes on to review the works of W.E.B. DuBois in the plight of the Negroes in America. In contrast to Washingtons view for common schools and industrialized training for Negroes, DuBois, because of the staunch dichotomy between the Whites and Negroes in the South, advocated Negroes train up their own teachers and establish higher-education schools.
It can thus be seen that the work of education in the South began with higher institutions of training, which threw off as their foliage common schools, and later industrial schools, and at the same time strove to shoot their roots ever deeper toward college and university training. (Fraser, 2010, p.135)