Curriculum: Construction and Critique – ROSS (CSS)

ROSS, Alistair. Curriculum: Construction and Critique. London & New York: Falmer Press, 2000. 187p. Resenha de: TRYSSENAAR, Laura. Canadian Social Studies, v.37, n.2, 2003.

Curriculum is a complex and compelling subject for both students and practitioners in education. Curriculum: Construction and Critique is an important book in the Masters Classes in Education Series. It is suitably written for the Masters level and would be an excellent text for graduate courses in the curriculum field. It would also be a useful reference book, helping professors and students alike to steer a course through the complexity of curriculum concepts and constructs. It is a highly readable and coherent text with a depth of scholarly perception that will encourage debate and conjecture.

The intent of the book is to raise questions regarding the purpose and design of curriculum and to examine the ideologies that shape curriculum. Alistair Ross aptly introduces the book, and the idea of curriculum, by choosing a culturally significant metaphor. Curriculum as garden takes its meaning from the English concept of garden, in which gardens have identifiable designs, purposes, and philosophies. Ross notes, the different ideas about the form and purposes of gardens are part of the same cultural movements that expressed different ideas about the structure and objectives of the school curriculum (p. 3). He consequently extends the metaphor into an examination of The Baroque Curriculum, the Naturally Landscaped Curriculum, the Dig for Victory Curriculum, and the Cottage Curriculum. The connection between curriculum and culture is firmly established and carries through the entire text.

The curriculum construction context addressed in this book is that of the curriculum in England and Wales, yet it has great relevance for students of curriculum in other nations in that it provides a point of comparison for a global inquiry into curriculum. Ross conceptualizes curriculum using universal definitions, and examines global trends in school curricula. Citing a study done by John Meyer at Stanford University, he points out the extraordinary similarities in curricula worldwide indicating that local national variations have been ironed out as a pattern of international conformity has prevailed (p. 15). Ross acknowledges that there are many local variations in curriculum, but suggests that the international trends in education reflect many of the same forces that have shaped the curriculum in England and Wales and thus offers his critique of curriculum in his culture as a template for global comparison.

Ross, like many others, perceives curriculum as a social construct that has responded to diverse influences over more than a century. He provides an interesting historical perspective of some of the great controversies and conflicting ideologies brought to bear on curriculum from 1860 to the present. Conflict and turmoil over the years are examined in light of tradition, politics, and ideology. Students of curriculum will find this book useful as a historical reference and as a basis for identifying the similarities among curriculum histories.

Another advantage of choosing a text based on a study and critique of the national curriculum in England and Wales, is its deliberate analysis of government involvement in shaping and imposing curriculum. What is particularly revealing in this text is the overwhelming connection between government ideology and the curriculum. The Thatcher government’s position on education and neo-conservative pressures of the recent past are particularly revealing. Students interested in examining the possibilities and pitfalls of a national curriculum will find this text offers much substance for the debate of central versus local control of the curriculum.

This text also has value as a model for research and scholarship. Ross presents a comprehensive compilation of curriculum scholarship and theorizing throughout the book, but most distinctively in the chapter on curriculum and reproduction. He examines the relationship between an educational system, particularly its curriculum, and the wider society within which the system is located (p. 81) from the theoretical standpoints of theorists such as Emile Durkheim, John Dewey, Michael Apple, Antonio Gramsci, Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis, Pierre Bordeaux, and Basil Bernstein among others. These theorists place curriculum in a social context, and provide a variety of interpretations of the role of curriculum in social reproduction.

Ross then moves from a theoretical perspective to meeting the need of many curriculum scholars for a concrete or technical depiction of curriculum. The remaining chapters of the text focus on the forms or traditions that written curriculum takes, and a critique thereof. Various approaches to curriculum are scrutinized. The reader is introduced to the discourse and ideology of content-based curriculum, objectives-based curriculum, and process-driven curricula. This is where a number of visuals add clarity to the book. Graphs, charts, and diagrams serve to illustrate and illuminate curriculum types, and the relationships between teachers, students, and the curriculum in various contexts. Diagrams are clear, flow charts easy to follow, and graphs are relevant to the content of the chapters. The connection is made between the various forms that curriculum takes and what curriculum becomes for the students for whom it is intended in these chapters and supports Ross’s argument that curriculum has a role in shaping future identities (p. 149).

The text comes full circle in the concluding chapter with another cultural metaphor, this time equating the Englishness of roast beef to the national identity forged by the curriculum, and warning of the dangers of believing both concepts. The final chapter offers a critical analysis of the symbols of nationality embedded in the curriculum which present some problems in terms of values and equality (p. 150). Ross raises questions about whose identity is being transmitted through the curriculum, and wonders about the regional, class, gender, and ethnic identities that are being denied when one national identity is created and promoted. That curriculum is important and powerful cannot be denied.

The book successfully addresses the historical, cultural, and political influences on curriculum, and provides insight into the complexity of curriculum substance and theory. Students who engage with this text may find they have as many questions as they are given answers. Alistair Ross achieves his goal and is able to both distinguish some of the competing traditions in curriculum design and purpose, and to analyse some of the ideologies that drive its construction (p. 160). The strength of this book is in its very Englishness which offers an honest perspective for curriculum critique.

Laura Tryssenaar – Faculty of Education. University of Western Ontario. London, Ontario.

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