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The Changing Curriculum

Author(s): Frederick Shaw


Source: Review of Educational Research, Vol. 36, No. 3, Curriculum Planning and
Development (Jun., 1966), pp. 343-352
Published by: American Educational Research Association
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1169794
Accessed: 07-06-2016 06:32 UTC

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CHAPTER I

The Changing Curriculum


FREDERICK SHAW

School curricula have changed more in the past ten years than in any other
decade of our national history. The purpose of this article is to describe
some of the forces that have been responsible for these innovations and to
indicate how they stimulated change. In the discussions that follow, rele-
vant educational research will be emphasized, but the focus of attention
will frequently be on other influences. The reason for this emphasis was
suggested by Woodring's (1964) statement that most recent reforms in
education have been due not to new psychological discoveries but to social
and political pressures and to widespread discontent with our educational
system. "Psychology no longer plays a very important part in determining
the direction of educational experimentation," he stated. In short, he found
it was not educational theorists who were making decisions that gave
education new directions, but others, such as educational administrators.
Discussions in this chapter will be subsumed under the following headings:
(a) social, economic, and demographic forces; (b) advances in tech-
nology; (c) political forces, including the role of pressure groups; (d)
the "knowledge explosion"; and (e) curriculum theory.

Social, Economic, and Demographic Forces


One of the areas of greatest concern in American schools in recent years
has been the education of the culturally deprived or culturally disadvan-
taged. Ginzberg (1965) brought out the underlying demographic reasons
for this situation. Millions of agricultural workers, largely from minority
groups, have been forced off farms by mechanization. They immigrated
chiefly to Northern and Western cities, where they faced difficulties of ad-
justment common to all newcomers, especially those moving from a rural
to an urban environment. Nor did they always find immediate acceptance
by the dominant population groups. Finally, educational deficiencies in
the areas from which they came made it difficult for them to take full
advantage of their schooling.
Ravitz' (1963) analysis indicated that their environment militated
against the scholastic success of the children of these migrants. Many lived
in abject poverty, came from overcrowded homes, and were beset by
severe psychological problems. They frequently saw parental images of
"despair, frustration, and enforced idleness," and their parents were often
poorly equipped to guide them in schoolwork. Their teachers were usually
trained for a "middle-class world of white students," and IQ tests did not
always do justice to their innate intelligence or learning abilities. A world
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REVIEW OF EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH Volume XXXVI, No. 3

beyond their experience was portrayed in their textbooks, which embodied


the language patterns, attitudes, and values of the white middle class.
Cloward and Jones (1964) corroborated some of these conclusions
when they investigated the relationship between socioeconomic status and
academic achievement. They found that slum schools suffered from high
teacher turnover and high pupil mobility. Pupils were frequently poorly
motivated because of low expectation of occupational success and a value
orientation which differed substantially from that of the middle class.
An important contribution was Deutsch's (1963) analysis of the environ-
mental influences on the school achievement of disadvantaged children,
conducted at the Insitute for Developmental Studies, New York Medical
College. Slums and segregated schools, he found, made academic success
relatively difficult. Children growing up in poverty suffered from "stimulus
deprivation," which reduced their cognitive potential because they had
few opportunities to manipulate the visual properties of their environment
and little chance to develop auditory discrimination skills. In short, they
had inadequate environmental preparation for school experiences. Deutsch
called for a new preschool kindergarten, based on the assumption that
"early intervention by well-structured programs will significantly reduce
the attenuating influence of the socially marginal environment." His re-
search gave a decided impetus to new preventive and compensatory
programs.
Passow (1963) proposed an agonizing reappraisal of the curriculum
for disadvantaged children. He suggested (a) "preventive" programs for
the early school years to prepare these children for school achievement by
helping them overcome cultural limitations, inarticulateness, and under-
developed abstract thinking abilities; (b) modifications in curricular con-
tent that would enable culturally deprived pupils to develop reading com-
petence and related language skills; (c) curricular and cultural enrich-
ment, like that provided by New York City's Higher Horizons program;
(d) improved instructional materials appropriate for children in depressed
areas; (e) remedial programs, particularly in secondary schools, to up-
grade pupils' achievement in areas such as reading, science, and mathe-
matics; (f) parent education programs to interpret the schools' efforts
to parents and to enlist their cooperation; and (g) new programs of
in-service and staff training to equip teachers with the subject matter,
instructional resources, and methodology they required for effective teach-
ing in slum areas. Many of these suggestions reflected actual practice.
Shaw (1963) analyzed programs for the culturally deprived in the Great
Cities Grey Areas School Improvement Program and the Higher Horizons
program in New York and found four common basic elements: (a) rein-
forcing the teacher's work through consultants, in-service courses, and
specialists working with the school staff; (b) involving parents in school
activities to raise their aspirations for their children and to enable them
to help their children in schoolwork; (c) involving the community in after-
noon and evening programs; and (d) appropriating special funds for these
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June 1966 THE CHANGING CURRICULUM

purposes. In addition, he noted promising programs of training teachers


to staff multiproblem schools, like the "Bridge Project" at Queens College
and the Hunter College teacher-training programs.
Others have probed areas that illuminate various aspects of the learning
potential of the disadvantaged child. Caplan and Ruble (1964) found that
Spanish-speaking bilingual students did not have less ability than their
monolingual peers but that they lacked communication skills, particularly
in curricular areas in which language is important. Lewis and Lewis
(1965) reached similar conclusions. Edmonds' (1964) investigations pro-
duced no evidence that significant differences in verbal ability existed
between boys and girls among disadvantaged children. Duncan (1964)
discovered marked differences in the achievement of children from low
socioeconomic areas, favoring those whose parents took courses in the
"new mathematics" over those who did not.

Advances in Technology
Two kinds of technological progress have influenced school programs:
(a) industrial advances, often called automation, and (b) educational tech-
nology, which put new mechanical tools into the classroom. Each will be
discussed in turn.
Ginzberg (1965) pointed out that automation, cybernation, and tech-
nological improvements had increased the demand for scientific and pro-
fessional workers but decreased the need for unskilled labor. Semiskilled
and unskilled jobs were being eliminated, and the poorly educated were
finding it increasingly difficult to locate work. Watson's (1963) report
stated that "automation means there is no room at the bottom of the
ladder of occupational skills." This development took place at the very
time that millions of newcomers, handicapped in their academic potential,
entered big-city schools. Harrington (1964), a social worker who helped
inspire the national War on Poverty, explained that those who lacked a high
school education would be condemned to the "economic underworld-to
low-paying service industries, to backward factories, and sweeping and
janitorial duties." If no new programs of education for the poor were
developed, he stated, automation could create a permanent army of the
poverty-stricken. "Science and technology have moved so swiftly that ad-
vanced education is no longer a luxury," declared President Johnson
(1964). "It is a necessity."
Some of the efforts to upgrade the education of culturally disadvantaged
youth have been outlined above. Others suggested by Watson's (1963)
report were the development of new curricula having units relevant to
pupils' interests; curricula that emphasized the active, concrete, and prac-
tical; and curricula that challenged pupils to "inquire and discover."
Great emphasis was placed on programs that prevented alienation and per-
suaded potential dropouts to remain in school. Forlano and Slotkin (1964)
evaluated three programs of this type: a high school work-study course,
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REVIEW OF EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH Volume XXXVI, No. 3

an evening school program, and a brief pre-employment program. They


found pupils in the experimental groups continued longer in school and
had better employment records than did those in conventional programs.
Dipasquale (1964) suggested that with refinements in curriculum con-
struction and class organization "which responded continuously to the
varying needs of youth," the ungraded school might prove to have greater
holding power than its graded counterpart.
Reduced job opportunities for the unskilled spurred the development of
vocational retraining courses for adults. Brooks (1964) described a suc-
cessful' experiment to develop higher skills among the "hard-core" unem-
ployed. He found that courses in language arts, number skills, and human
relations were needed also.
Technology also brought mechanical and electromechanical instruments,
or "hardware," into the classroom. Kvaraceus (1965) described "highly
automated classrooms and cubicles," complete with teaching machines,
tapes, discs, television hookups, radio, films, filmstrips, classroom com-
puters, and retrieval systems.
Lumsdaine (1964) pointed out that most audiovisual media, like films
or television, were developed with little reference to educational theory,
being used simply as stimulus-response devices. Teaching machines and
programed instruction, however, were developed by Skinner in accordance
with principles of learning related to active participation of the learner,
progression at individual rates, and immediate confirmation or correction.
Lumsdaine believed these machines made it possible to approximate an
ideal learning sequence; the situation could be reproduced and revisions
of the program could be based on feedback from students. Programed
learning, he found, had brought a shift from studies which merely observed
the conditions under which learning took place toward those placing a
greater emphasis on the management of efficient learning conditions.
As teaching machines and programed instruction gained wider accept-
ance, educators began to prepare curricula appropriate to the new media
of instruction and to ascertain the optimum conditions for employing
them. Bartz and Darby (1965) obtained better results with supervised
than with nonsupervised instruction. Carpenter and Fillmer (1965) found
that pupils who employed programed texts finished their courses sooner
than those who used machines, but Holz and Robinson (1963) discovered
that the machines prevented slipshod work. Gray (1964) suggested that
these technological aids did not necessarily lead to mechanization but
could help individualize instruction.

Political Influences on the Curriculum

Governmental Programs
Never in the history of the nation has the federal government supported
educational programs as vigorously as in the mid-1960's. The principal
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June 1966 THE CHANGING CURRICULUM

impetus for expanding aid to education was the dual concept of the "Great
Society" and the "War on Poverty." Space does not permit a thorough
exposition of the way the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 attacked
poverty by providing a Job Corps for school dropouts, part-time work
training for youth in school, and work-study opportunities for needy
college students. Some of these programs were modeled on successful
programs of compensatory education or programs for preventing students
from dropping out of school.
The aid-to-education bill passed by Congress in 1965 provided not only
for general financial support of education but also for a nationwide pre-
school educational program for slum children, Head Start. This pro-
gram partly reflected a shift away from the doctrine of reading readiness.
Sanderson (1963) indicated that this concept had hardened into a dogma
that did not always serve educational purposes, and Lynn (1963) and
Downing (1963) suggested that children might be ready to learn at an
earlier age than educators had believed possible.
Project Head Start (1965) was also an attempt to remedy the deficien-
cies of disadvantaged homes. The impetus came partly from the findings
of Deutsch (1963), described above. It was also based on research by
Bloom (1964), who discovered that the period of most rapid growth for
general intelligence and intellectuality came at the age of four and that
the child's environment was one of the principal determinants of school
achievement. The early years of growth were crucial, he found, for they
served as the base for later development. He suggested compensation for
environmental deprivations in the form of "therapeutic procedures and
conditions." The basic concept of preschool programs is sometimes
attributed to Bruner (1960) because he advanced the idea that "any
subject can be taught effectively in some intellectually honest form to any
child at any stage of development." An intensive scrutiny of Bruner's
Process of Education, however, offers no support to the notion that he
advanced prekindergarten schooling.
One of the government's greatest contributions to education may prove
to be its Curriculum Research and Development Program. Kubie (1964)
called for a national institute of research, complete with experimental
schools and laboratories, modeled on the National Institutes of Health.
Ianni and Josephs (1964) noted that since 1962 the U.S. Office of Educa-
tion has been directly involved in developing curricula and curricular
materials. It emphasized a method called program research, a real break-
through in curricular research which went far beyond the confines of the
typical project. Program research meant "pre-planned, continuous atten-
tion, through all steps in the research process until solutions were found
and translated into practice." It involved basic research, curriculum devel-
opment, and field testing by teams of scholars, research scientists, teach-
ers, and school administrators. They examined existing curricula, designed
new ones, tested and refined them in actual school situations, and produced
and disseminated new curricular materials.
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REVIEW OF EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH Volume XXXVI, No. 3

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 authorized


federal grants for community "supplementary centers" that would provide
"innovation and experimentation" for local school systems. These centers
could develop specialized curricula or adapt curricula developed elsewhere
to meet local needs.

Interest Groups

Almost every area of public life, political scientists have pointed out,
has felt the influence of interest groups. Even a private university, Kirk
(1965) explained, is subject to pressure by different groups, which seek
to preserve or modify the traditional curricula. In most communities local
school boards have been popularly elected, a circumstance which helps
explain the concern of interest groups in the public schools. Kimbrough
(1964) pointed out that schools are indirectly involved in politics and
subjected to direct pressure from interest groups because they are publicly
supported and controlled. Decision making on curricula, school programs,
or other school matters is subject to the tug and pull of various, and some-
times conflicting, interest groups. One of the most prominent of these
groups in recent years was the Negro protest movement, the chief thrust
of which was directed in many cities at school programs. Rose (1965)
described the several facets of this movement, while Sexton (1964) out-
lined the viewpoints of a broader spectrum of elements concerned with
school programs, such as ethnic and religious groups, class interests, busi-
ness and labor organizations, and political parties.
The question of religious teaching in public schools offered a case
history demonstrating the concern of interest groups with school curricula.
In 1962 the Supreme Court ruled that New York State had violated the
constitutional prohibition on establishing a religion when it made nonde-
nominational prayer part of the daily exercises in public schools (Engle vs.
Vitale). In 1963 the Court held that reading of the Bible or recitation of
the Lord's Prayer, prescribed by law in Pennsylvania classrooms, was
unconstitutional (Abington School District vs. Schempp). These decisions
led to widespread public debate on the role of religion in the school pro-
gram. Some groups suggested that religion be studied within the curricu-
lum in such forms as units in sociology courses or the study of the Bible
in literature courses. The American Association of School Administrators
appointed a committee to consider the problem.

The Knowledge Explosion


We have entered a period in history in which knowledge, gained
through research, is growing at an astonishing pace. Some observers have
stated that human knowledge doubles every nine years. In the 1950's and
1960's subject matter specialists, particularly in the physical sciences and
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June 1966 THE CHANGING CURRICULUM

mathematics, perceived that this expansion of knowledge was not reflected


in conventional courses. Heath (1964) persuaded a number of specialists
involved in curriculum reform movements to describe them in detail.
Space does not permit a full exposition of the development of programs
like the University of Illinois Committee on School Mathematics, the
School Mathematics Study Group, the Physical Sciences Study Committee,
and American Institute of Biological Sciences Curriculum Study program,
authoritatively described in New Curricula. In the 1960's the movement
spread to the social sciences. The National Task Force on Economic Edu-
cation, for example, defined the goals of their subject, while a special Text-
book Study Committee of the Committee on Economic Education (1963),
appointed by the American Economic Association, analyzed and evaluated
the texts available to high school students.
These courses did not merely update subject matter. Many new programs
were based on Bruner's (1960) contention that schools are wasting pre-
cious years in postponing the teaching of many subjects on the ground
that they are too difficult. He advocated a "spiral curriculum" which
"turned back on itself at higher levels." As a result, curriculum committees
tended to develop fully integrated K-12 sequences instead of merely re-
vamping existing courses. These courses were also characterized by a
';return to learning," based on the assumption that the capacity of the pupil
to learn difficult material had been seriously underestimated.
Emphasis on new knowledge stimulated inquiries into creativity. In a
critical study of the creative imagination, Rugg (1963) attempted to
ascertain what prompted creative change. His multidisciplinary approach
revealed that the arts, sciences, and philosophy were not discontinuous
but were all "brothers." MacKinnon (1964) described a study of unusually
creative individuals, conducted at the University of California's Institute of
Personality Assessment and Research. This study suggested that curricula
should do more than impart facts; to support and encourage "creative
striving" curricula should be structured to encourage students to relate
facts to larger areas of knowledge, to exercise judgment, and to perform
independent research.

Curriculum Theory
Theory has not played a decisive role in influencing curriculum change.
The reasons have not been difficult to find. Bristow (1963) pointed out
that many curriculum problems were "unresearched or inadequately re-
searched, studied, or developed." Hence operating solutions were made
on an empirical basis. At best, curriculum workers obtained indirect clues
from research in areas like learning, teacher training, or administration.
What was lacking, asserted Hott and Sonstegard (1965), was a conceptual
system or theoretical structure capable of guiding curriculum research
design. This suggestion was confirmed by Passow (1964), who noted such
weaknesses in curriculum research as flaws in design, lack of replication,
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REVIEW OF EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH Volume XXXVI, No. 3

and failure to relate studies to larger problems. The most optimistic ele-
ment he could find in this area was an interest in building a coherent
theory of curriculum. Miel (1963) suggested two ways of organizing
curricula, as problem-centered or discipline-centered; she proposed a com-
bination of both methods.

Summary and Conclusion

Curriculum theory played only a small part in producing curriculum


change in recent years. Curriculum specialists found clues in other areas
of educational research, but a comprehensive theoretical structure was
conspicuously lacking. The most important curricular innbvations were
introduced in response to social, economic, and intellectual problems, such
as the influx of minority groups into big cities, the growth of automation
in industry, and the knowledge explosion. The federal government, in par-
ticular, played a vigorous role in planning and supporting new curricula.
A new method of curriculum construction, "program research," developed
by the federal government's Cooperative Research Program, could provide
dynamic curricular leadership for the country's schools.

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