Curriculum as a Public Policy (Before and After)

Before: “How do you think school curricula is developed?”

I would assume other places are similar to Saskatchewan, but that might not be true. In Saskatchewan, the Ministry will hire teachers for a contract to develop curriculum. Essentially you end up with panels of teachers, and probably policy makers, or a politician or professional from the workforce. It then becomes a small think tank, where this committee works on building the curriculum together, possibly basing it off of new developments and curriculum from other provinces/states. This is of course what I expect from my prior knowledge and understanding of small parts of the process.

After:

Comparing what I read in the article to my prior knowledge, I was not incredibly far off. According to the article, curriculum is developed mostly by politicians/policy makers. These would be the cabinet minister along with his/her army of public servants. What surprised me was the extent of how political this process is. I knew there was some politics and controversy involved, but even normal curricula development is a huge process, with lobbyists on both sides, along with businesses and other large organizations (unions, associations, professional groups). On top of this pressure, it is an ongoing process. When curricula is in active review, and also when the curricula is implemented and not in a review process, there are always lobbyists and other groups creating political pressure.

It also concerns me that some regions seem to place more emphasis on the opinions of the power figures, rather than taking input from teachers, students, parents, etc. In some of these places, the rich do almost get the full vote on what occurs for educational policy, and it is primarily for political gain/reassurance.

Another concern for me is how, in the example of Ontario, one of our fellow provinces almost went through with curricula implementation based on what was essentially a one sided argument and opinion. How they essentially took the opinion of the closest, loudest voice, wasted time and resources on that development, and later ended up scratching most of their work. This story was also reassuring and cool in my opinion, because in the end everything was corrected. They made a committee that was balanced, with one person from every group. And the instructions were simple, to collect information and derive what the public and professional opinion of their proposed change was. To top this off, once that balanced committee filtered out the results and composed a recommendation, all groups lobbying for different sides just went quiet. That balanced committee ended the tension through a represented decision. Whether or not you agree with the argument or the outcome is one thing, but we all should be able to see how amazing that result was. By making a proper, evenly represented committee, the majority opinion will formulate itself, making an easy way to avoid another 2-3 years of waste.

Personally, I like this idea of a think tank. You get the academic and professional sides of the story, the parents and students opinions, and then the policy makers and educators can translate this into something that will work in the classroom. It also ensures that the results aren’t skewed by the politician’s pressured direction, and it protects the curriculum from becoming mistakenly outdated because of uniformed educators/policy makers. It gives you the public and professional opinions, but allows the influences to be evenly distributed, and makes the policy maker’s job fairly easy afterwards. To summarize, whether for good or bad intentions, efficiency will always have its benefits.

2 Replies to “Curriculum as a Public Policy (Before and After)”

  1. Interesting take. In theory maybe a think tank is a good idea, however most think tanks are ideologically driven – they serve a particular agenda. Think Frasier Institute, the Frontier Center etc… and while this is true across the spectrum – it is interesting to think about how/why these are created. If you believe that the media, or the government is ‘liberal’ – you create these think tanks in order to have an effect / within a ‘warzone’ mentality. I am wondering about how ‘culture war’ comes to be thinkable or intelligible and the ideas that underlie/support thinking that culture war is real or desirable.

    1. Haha I’m feeling like I might have used think tank in the wrong context here. I do agree with you that most think tanks are incredibly political, probably to the point where it might get in the way for educational purposes. I was more leaning towards a represented committee, like what Ontario had in their final review of the Calculus Curriculum. The committee would have a representative from different major areas related to that subject (An expert, academic, policy maker, teacher, parent, student, etc..). Even this isn’t immune to a political perspective, but at least it would be more evenly represented than your average think tank.

      I did have an interesting conversation in class with Joy this morning. The article mentioned that if the groups influencing curriculum are disagreeing too much, and creating confusion, the public body (citizens) will essentially lock out those ideas and go back to their roots. Since the majority of us experienced a very traditional, lectured type of education, the majority of the public body will fallback on those traditional views. So while Think Tanks and Committees can be dangerous if there is a lack of diversified opinions, having a somewhat chaotic enviroment where lobbyist and expert groups are spreading opinions everywhere could be similarly dangerous as they can lead to a traditionalist fallback. While I had always considered this to be a problem with teachers, I never considered that those traditionalist roots might even effect the voter body when deciphering curricula related politics.

      I think that discussion kind of underlies your comment about culture war, wondering if it is a desirable or even functional way to develop curriculum.

      By the way, thanks for the feedback! 🙂

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