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• “What is the goal of education? Is it to develop basic skills, critical thinking, future workers, or personal growth? What should be the goal of education? How are the goals reflected in curriculum?
What is taught in schools? What should be taught and how should it be organized? Who should decide?
What counts as knowledge? What knowledge is of most worth? What forms of knowing are most valued? What forms of knowing should be valued?
Why do changes in curriculum take place? What influences from society lead to curriculum change?
How is curriculum change enacted? What are the obstacles to change? What is the role of the teacher as change agent?

Issues within Curriculum Development

- Dr. Carla Peck, EDEL 561, Winter 2017, University of Alberta -

This page provides a brief and incomplete introduction to some of the big questions involved in curriculum development. 

Curriculum development occurs across the educational spectrum - from the teacher in the classroom to the policy maker in parliament. Curricula must be critically engaged and actively interpreted. No curriculum is an impartial document. (Inspired by Dr. Carla Peck)

What does it mean to be "educated"?

All terms must have a definition or else they are meaningless, and yet there is no simple way to determine if someone is ‘well-educated’, which is partly why education is continually undergoing revision and reform.


Society is not singular, and does not have a singular view point. There are many diverse perspectives that contribute towards the definition of "educated" and this is vital because of the diversity of our student population. Lists may be produced, such as 50 Characteristics of an Educated Person (Fábrega, 2012), but these have inherent and obvious flaws, e.g. Stephen Hawkins would be uneducated because he can not sing or dance well and can not play a musical instrument! These lists are also often biased in favour of the Victorian ideal of the "well-bred" upper class elite, and brings to mind Jane Austen's satirical discussion of an ‘accomplished’ woman in Pride and Prejudice. One could argue that this class system is alive and well within British society, particularly within the minds of those who feel they ‘belong’ or unquestioningly have access and ability to approach and attempt great things, or not.

Amongst the competing voices are those who argue for the need to prepare a population for responsible involvement in a democratic society, and those who are primarily concerned with producing a capable and efficient workforce with individuals who are academically prepared to be economically successful. Both can argue best intentions for individuals and society. Others voices will stress individual "self-actualisation", being "well-rounded", or becoming more "human".  The inherent tensions between competing voices ensures a broad and balanced education, as each of these goals have merit and value. 

Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.” - widely attributed to Aristotle


“I am a survivor of a concentration camp. My eyes saw what no person should witness: gas chambers built by learned engineers. Children poisoned by educated physicians. Infants killed by trained nurses. Women and babies shot by high school and college graduates. So, I am suspicious of education.

My request is:

Help your children become human. Your efforts must never produce learned monsters, skilled psychopaths or educated Eichmanns. Reading, writing, and arithmetic are important only if they serve to make our children more human.

– An excerpt of a letter written by a Holocaust survivor to educators, published in “Teacher and Child” by Dr. Haim Ginott, child psychologist and author (The Centre for Holocaust and Humanity Education, 2016, para. 1).


"Nel Noddings, professor emerita at Stanford University, urges us to reject 'the deadly notion that the schools’ first priority should be intellectual development' and contends that 'the main aim of education should be to produce competent, caring, loving, and lovable people.' " (Kohn, 2015, para. 6).

Perhaps Kohn’s conclusion is the closest approximation that I can find overall:


"To be well-educated, then, is to have the desire as well as the means to make sure that learning never ends" (Kohn, 2015, para. 27).

What is "curriculum" anyway?

The original meaning of the word ‘curriculum’, as used in Latin by Cicero, is like a course set out for a race, or like a container (a time constraint) and also somewhat its contents (Egan, 2003). This distinction remained ambiguous but shifted towards meaning the container's contents by the 19th century. The race-course comparison works well as we consider questions like: How long is it? Where does it go? What is involved along the way?


Neither understanding referred to teaching methods, as how to teach was not considered until the mid-eighteenth century, along with individual preferences and abilities. However, if both what to teach and how to teach are included in the definition of curriculum, then virtually everything that relates to education falls under the domain of ‘curriculum.’


Another difficulty in defining curriculum is that the specific purpose of education is clouded, and thus the contents are difficult to determine. Egan concludes that neither the how nor the what questions can be focused on at the expense of the other, and that ‘[c]urriculum is the study of any and all educational phenomena’ (2003, p. 16).

Aoki (2005), however, distinguishes between ‘curriculum-as-plan’ and ‘curriculum-as-lived-experiences’. Just as each teacher is unique, each classroom’s ‘pedagogic situation’ (as Aoki puts it) is unique, and each teacher asks curriculum questions in a thousand ways each day: What should I teach next, and how? Teachers walk a fine balance between both of these curricula on a daily basis. Teachers feel the pressure of the curriculum-as plan, and often worry that they won’t get to everything that is required because their students need something else in the moment, the curriculum-as-lived-experiences. Aoki points out that this tension can be a positive place to dwell, and recognises the importance and relevance of the students experiences and the teacher’s knowledge of their unique needs.

The following are 3 ways of categorising curriculum: (based on Eisner's work, and especially his book, The Educational Imagination: On the Design and Evaluation of School Programs)

  • Explicit curriculum is what is documented and mandated. This is the published "curriculum-as-plan" of what to teach and do.

  • Implicit, or hidden, curriculum is both intentionally and unintentionally taught, and includes messaging about rules, norms, expectations, and values. Much of this must be learned by students to be "successful" in school and society. 

  • Null curriculum is what is specifically excluded from being taught within the context of a classroom - that which is banned or omitted. This may be at the policy-making level, straight through to the individual classroom teacher's choices, consciously or unconsciously. Teachers need to consider examine their own biases and consider the null curriculum carefully, since what is omitted communicates its irrelevance or lesser importance (Zamboni, n.d., para. 6). 

Leask (2015, in Thielsch, 2017) defines the curriculum (in the university context) as having 3 interactive components instead:

  • formal curriculum - “the syllabus as well as the orderly, planned schedule of experiences and activities that students must undertake as part of their degree program” (p.168), 

  • informal curriculum - “the various support services and additional activities and options organised by the university that are not assessed” (p. 168), and

  • hidden curriculum - “ 'the various unintended, implicit and hidden messages sent to students [...]' by numerous aspects in teaching and learning" (p. 168).

While the hidden curriculum is the least visible, it is expected and required inside and outside the classroom, as it governs social rituals such as where to sit in the class, how to get help from the professor, and the boundary between cooperation and collusion (Thielsch, 2017).

The "curriculum" is so much more than the approved and published document!

References and Further Resources

Addams, J. (2013). The public school and the immigrant child. In D. J. Flinders & S. J. Thornton (Eds.), The curriculum studies reader (4th ed., pp. 33-40). New York: Routledge.

Aoki, T. (2005). Teaching as indwelling between two curriculum worlds. In W. Pinar &. R. Irwin (Eds.), Curriculum in a new key: The collected works of Ted T. Aoki (pp. 159- 165). Mahwah NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Assocs. Retrieved from 

Bobbitt, F. (2013). Scientific method in curriculum making. In D. J. Flinders & S. J. Thornton (Eds.), The curriculum studies reader (4th ed., pp. 33-40). New York: Routledge.

Centre for Holocaust and Humanity Education. (2016). Educational philosophy. Retrieved from 

Counts, G. (2013). Dare the school build a new social order? In D. J. Flinders & S. J. Thornton (Eds.), The curriculum studies reader (4th ed., pp. 45-51). New York: Routledge.

Dewey, J. (2013). My pedagogic creed. In D. J. Flinders & S. J. Thornton (Eds.), The curriculum studies reader (4th ed., pp. 33-40). New York: Routledge.

Egan, K. (2003). What is curriculum? Journal of the Canadian Association for Curriculum Studies, 1(1), 9-16.  Retrieved from

Fábrega, M. (2012). 50 Characteristics of an educated person. Retrieved from 

Greene, M. (2013). Curriculum and consciousness. In D. J. Flinders & S. J. Thornton (Eds.), The curriculum studies reader (4th ed., pp. 79-93). New York, NY: Routledge.

Kohn, A. (2015). What does it mean to be well-educated?  Retrieved from  

Lemisko, L. & Clausen, K. (2006). Connections, contrarieties, and convolutions: Curriculum and pedagogic reform in Alberta and Ontario, 1930‐1955. Canadian Journal of Education, 29(4) 1097‐1126.

Montessori, M. (2013). A critical consideration of the new pedagogy in its relation to modern science. In D. J. Flinders & S. J. Thornton (Eds.), The curriculum studies reader (4th ed., pp. 45-51). New York: Routledge.

Thielsch, Angelika. (2017). Approaching the invisible: Hidden curriculum and implicit expectations in higher education. Zeitschrift für Hochschulentwicklung, 167-187. DOI: 10.3217/zfhe-12-04/11. Retrieved from

Zamboni, J. (n.d.). How do explicit & implicit curriculum differ? Retrieved from

Curriculum Development in the 1950s and 1960s:

Man: A Course of Study (MACOS): an humanities curriculum project in the 1970s, based on the theories of Dr. Jerome Bruner.

Through These Eyes (NFB film):

"An American elementary school program from the 1970s, Man: A Course of Study (MACOS), looked to the Inuit of the Canadian Arctic to help students see their own society in a new way. At its core was The Netsilik Film Series, an acclaimed benchmark of visual anthropology from the National Film Board that captured a year in the life of an Inuit family, reconstructing an ancient culture on the cusp of contact with the outside world. But the graphic images of the Netsilik people created a clash of values that tore rifts in communities across the U.S. and revealed a fragile relationship between politics and education. A fiery national debate ensued between academic and conservative forces.
Through These Eyes looks back at the high stakes of this controversial curriculum. Decades later, as American influence continues to affect cultures worldwide, the story of MACOS resonates strongly."

University College of London's library guide on MACOS, with background information, MACOS curriculum documents, videos, and more:


The Summerhill School: Founded by A.S. Neill in 1921 and still in operation today, it is perhaps the most well-known embodiment of the philosophy of democratic, progressive education. 

Summerhill School website:

A.S. Neill's Summerhill School:

Imagine a School...Summerhill:

Some of those who were at the forefront of Educational Objectives:

Interview with James W. Popham

USC: Museum of Education (Elliot Eisner)

Inside the Academy - Elliot Eisner

Philip W. Jackson (UChicago News)

A Tribute to Philip W. Jackson (by the John Dewey Society)

The Maxine Greene Centre for Aesthetic Education and Social Imagination

Inside the Academy - Maxine Greene (video)

Maxine Greene - To New Teachers (video)

What if students controlled their own learning? (Peter Hutton, TEDx Melbourne)

Eisner "Educational Objectives: Help or Hindrance" article

Recent thoughts, developments and ideas for curriculum and education:

Deng, Z. (2017). Rethinking Curriculum and Teaching. Rethinking Curriculum and Teaching. Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Education. DOI: 10.1093/acrefore/9780190264093.013.55. Retrieved from

Abstract: "In academic literature there is a multiplicity and proliferation of alternative curriculum definitions and the matter of defining curriculum is in a state of disarray. Likewise, there are diverse ways of defining teaching in which curriculum is virtually invisible. Invoking Dewey's idea of " reality as whole, " this article makes for case for rethinking curriculum and teaching as two interrelated concepts embedded in the societal, institutional, and instructional contexts of schooling. Curriculum is construed in terms of societal, policy, programmatic, and classroom curricula which give social meaning, normative and operational frameworks, and educational quality to the practice of teaching. Likewise, teaching is thought of as socio-cultural, institutional, deliberative and curricular practice with a bearing on the societal, policy, programmatic and classroom curricula in varying ways. The article concludes by questioning the technicist and reductionist treatment of curriculum and teaching associated with the current global movement toward standards and accountability and by calling for re-envisioning curriculum and teaching in view of the educational challenges of the 21 st century."

Milner, H. R. (2017). Confronting inequity / Reimagining the null curriculum. Citizens in the Making, 75(3), 88-89. Retrieved from

"In the wake of the hate-fueled violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the killing of Heather Heyer this summer, many students were left confused, frustrated, hurt, and uncertain about their country. And too many educators planned to go about their work just as they have in the past—teaching the null: that is, not teaching the underlying realities of what Charlottesville means for us—not only at this moment but in our understanding of the nation's history."

"If Charlottesville is addressed once or perhaps over a few days in isolation and then the school environment shifts back to learning institutions as usual—places that in general teach U.S. history through a distorted lens—I suspect we will continue to get nowhere fast. But if we allow Charlottesville to serve as a true anchor to reimagine the null curriculum, we can move toward healing—healing that intersects with the reality of many other issues and events that need addressing and that continue to keep particular groups of students feeling angry, hurt, frustrated, sad, and hopeless. If we reimagine what we teach and place social justice at the center of our work, we have an opportunity to use the real-life events that students care about—and are confused about—as curriculum and to help them think more deeply about our country's meaning and trajectory."

An (incomplete) list of influential voices in the (re)formation of Western Curriculum:

  • John Dewey, 1859 - 1952

  • Jane Addams, 1860 - 1935

  • Maria Montessori, 1870 - 1952

  • Franklin Bobbitt, 1876 - 1956

  • George Counts, 1889 - 1974

  • Ralph Tyler, 1902 - 1994 

  • Jerome Bruner, 1915 - 2016

  • Maxine Greene, 1917 - 2014

  • Philip W. Jackson, 1928-2015

  • Herbert Kielbard, 1930 - 2015

  • William James Popham, 1930 - present

  • Elliot Eisner, 1933 - 2014

For a Canadian perspective of curriculum development, see Lemisko & Clausen's (2006) "Connections, contrarieties, and convolutions: Curriculum and pedagogic reform in Alberta and Ontario, 1930‐1955." For example, during the progressive education era in America:

Meanwhile, the Canadian educational system was undergoing its own its own, similar reforms into progressive education. In Alberta leading up to and into the 1930s, the cultural climate was more ripe for change and new ideas, since it was a very young and hopeful province and was looking for bigger social changes, much like Counts proposed. Ontario already had a firmly entrenched traditional educational system, and a long-standing Conservative government with a Department of Education that was used to ignoring questions or opposition (Lemisko & Clausen, 2006). Thus, Alberta was faster to adopt a progressive curriculum; Ontario had a change of government mid-decade and a move in this educational direction as well. Both shifts were significantly influenced by Dewey, as some teachers from Alberta trained under his domain in Chicago (Lemisko & Clausen, 2006, p. 1104); since 1907 in Ontario, Dewey’s pragmatic philosophy was part of the training in normal schools (Lemisko & Clausen, 2006, p. 1111). Both new curricula were child-centred with an emphasis on active, project-based, integrated subjects. Albertan teachers were better supported with more training and detailed examples and explanations, while Ontario teachers were largely left to their own devices. However, both curriculum reforms eventually were reversed in the 1950s. Albertan teachers did not have assessment criteria in this new system and eventually were given mixed messages and philosophies to work with. In Ontario, the lack of clarity and support, together with the changing cultural climate across Ontario (and Canada), lead to a reversal in government, and in both Alberta and Ontario, the curriculum reverted to a more traditional approach. However, the combined subject of Social Studies remains today in various provinces, as does the value of a child-centred education and the push for some combined interdisciplinary units of study (Lemisko & Clausen, 2006).

Some favourite Dewey highlights:


For Dewey, education is at the heart of social formation and reform, and active, organic social interactions are at the heart of education. He argued that education was the most effective way for society to ‘shape itself … in the direction in which it wishes to move’ (Dewey, 2013, p. 39), and as such, teachers have a high and dignified calling.

In order for this education to be effective, it must carefully involve social factors, to be genuine and meaningful, and individual factors, so as not to subordinate the freedom of the individual (Dewey, 2013, p. 34).

Children are active, and ideas result from action, so when a ‘child is thrown into a passive, receptive, or absorbing attitude’ the result is ‘friction and waste’ (Dewey, 2013, p. 38).

The teacher's role is to ‘select the influences which shall affect the child and to assist him in properly responding to these influences’ (Dewey, 2013, p. 36).

Dewey recognised that it is impossible to prepare students for specific future conditions since we can’t predict what civilization will be like. Instead, Dewey’s goals for education were the shaping of society in general, and the preparation of the individual to ‘have the full and ready use of all his capacities’ to be able to use their bodies skillfully, their judgement perceptively and contextually, and the self-control and motivation to ‘act economically and efficiently’ (2013, p. 34).

Further quotes and thoughts:

 ‘Curriculum can offer the possibility for students to be the makers of [relational] networks. The problem for their teachers is to stimulate an awareness of the questionable, to aid in the identification of the thematically relevant, to beckon beyond the everyday’ (Greene, 2013, p. 138).

I want to be a teacher-librarian who helps to do this. In a world of barriers and "alternate facts" - I want to present a variety of media to open gateways to new thoughts and new connections, to challenge students to question what is true, to evaluate what is relevant, to see the big picture and dream meaningfully.

‘[T]he individual, in our case the student, will only be in a position to learn when he is committed to act upon his world. If he is content to admire it or simply accept it as given, ... he will remain alienated from himself and his own possibilities; ... he will be unable to learn. He may be conditioned; he may be trained. He may even have some rote memory of certain elements of the curriculum; but no matter how well devised is that curriculum, no matter how well adapted to the stages of his growth, learning (as disclosure, as generating structures, as engendering meanings, as achieving mastery) will not occur’ (Greene, 2013, p. 136, bold added).

So how do we avoid this state of affairs in our students’ minds? She identifies the individual’s need to make sense of one’s own world, but if the instructional situation ignores this need and instead is an authoritative structure that dictates what is real, then it depersonalizes and disengages the individual learner who says it is irrelevant to herself. (Greene, 2013, p. 137). [Or in other words, ‘Why do we have to learn this? Why does it matter to me?’] Instead, she suggests that the curriculum be presented in ‘a way that does not impose or enforce’ but instead, the student can reason out ‘his constitution of a world’ and thus ‘realize what it is to generate the structures of the disciplines on his own initiative, against his own “background awareness.” ‘ (Greene, 2013, pp. 137-138). This is a key takeaway for me - the approach of presenting information and activities in an open way where students are respected to draw real conclusions, instead of being dictated what to think! Students need to be strong higher-order thinkers, able to draw conclusions for themselves and not just going along with surface level ‘understanding’ of whatever they are told to remember. 

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