Basic Principles of Curriculum and Instruction
reviewed by James C. Jupp — February 07, 2014
Ralph Tyler’s Basic Principles of Curriculum and Instruction (BPoCI) represented the perfect ideological tonic for culminating the historical epoch of curriculum theorizing between 1892 and 1958. Emphasizing the professional bureaucratization of its epoch, Tyler’s BPoCI and the Tyler rationale provided (and continue to provide) the hegemonic logic in curriculum design and development that you can simply not not want in the historical present.
During an epoch of professional bureaucratization, Tyler’s BPoCI “put the capstone on one epoch of curriculum inquiry” (Goodlad in Kliebard, 1971, p. 272). Emphasizing this epoch, the professional bureaucratization of curriculum theorizing accompanied the rise of graded public schools. Important in this discussion is the recognition that graded public schools, as they exist today, did not exist in the same form in 1900. For example, in 1900 only ten percent of school-aged children even attended secondary schools let alone graduated with diplomas, and as late as 1940, fewer than thirty percent of white children and fewer than ten percent of children of color finished high school (National Center for Educational Statistics, 1993). In this epoch of professional-bureaucratic transformation, the political battles over the organization of public schools and school curriculum represented an endless multitude of minute municipal, county, and state level skirmishes among conflicting interests and “stakeholders” along with state and local political machinery. Only in the context of state and local political machinery of the late 1800s and early 1900s—including corruption, nepotism, graft, and fraud (Duffy & Price, 2009; Tyack, 1974)—could rationalistic professional-bureaucratic titles like “curriculum specialist” even become comprehensible “needs.” Despite the accuracy of revisionist historians’ critiques of this epoch (Callahan, 1962, Kliebard, 1971; Spring, 2000; Tyack 1974), it behooves us to recall one aspect of the professional-bureaucratic transformation felicitously taken-for-granted in revisionists’ critiques: the epoch of professional bureaucratization represented a bold experiment in public investment.
This historical epoch of the professional-bureaucratic transformation provided the broad backdrop for the rise of curriculum specialists. Importantly in this epoch, professional-bureaucratic specialists became characteristic not only in education but also across a number of ascendant university-based human sciences and professions. Concurrent with this historical epoch, professional bureaucratization eventually institutionalized the Franklin Delano Roosevelt hegemony, and this power elite endured through Lyndon Baines Johnson’s Great Society programs that came replete with an army of human scientists there to “help.” Characteristic of this historical epoch, the predominant assumptions in human sciences like curriculum theorizing emphasized the human scientist as “managing,” “administrating,” and even “fixing” social problems using positivist scientific methods (Winterer, 2002). Though BPoCI drew on eclectic-pragmatic rather than positivist paradigms, Tyler’s various roles in The Eight Year Study, in the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) testing program, and as Educational Advisor to several U.S. Presidents, earned him the informal moniker “Mr. Fix it” (Kridel, 2010, p. 904), a handle very much referencing the assumptions for human scientists of his epoch. Given Tyler and the Tyler rationale’s ascendance during this period, it should come as no surprise that the curriculum theorizing in Tyler’s BPoCI “is not a teacher’s statement of curriculum development; it is a bureaucrat’s” (Pinar, Reynolds, Slattery, & Taubman, 1995, p. 149). Nonetheless, by the middle 1950s, a burgeoning, complex, insurgent, and multivariegated intellectual inconformity and rejection of professional bureaucratization had emerged on the margins of the human sciences (e.g., Jourard, 1958, 1964; Wright Mills, 1956, 1959). In curriculum theorizing, the ill-fated progressive Life Adjustment Movement (e.g., Prosser, Hawkins, & Wright, 1951) had painted a target on progressive curriculum theorizing that drew fire from paideia traditionalists (e.g., Bestor, 1953/1985; Rickover, 1960) and nonconformist progressives (e.g., Huebner, 1959/1991) alike. By the National Defense Education Act of 1958 brought on by Sputnik in 1957, the aspirations of professional bureaucratic curriculum theorizing were sidelined by the cognitive revolution. Despite the “revolution” in curriculum leadership, school bureaucracies continued through this day, and the Tyler rationale has endured, perhaps, as a zombie paradigm that just keeps coming back.
Within this epoch of professional-bureaucratization, Tyler’s BPoCI provided the perfect ideological tonic—defensible on all fronts. Tyler’s BPoCI and the Tyler rationale directly and eclectically drew on preceding curriculum theorizing and his experience in curriculum development and educational evaluation. Regarding his (by-and-large uncited) sources, Tyler’s BPoCI included understandings of (a) educational objectives from behaviorist (e.g., Thorndike, 1910) curriculum theorists (e.g., Bobbitt, 1918); (b) active and experiential understandings of teaching and learning (e.g., Dewey, 1916, 1938/1997; Kilpatrick, 1918); (c) child-centered curriculum theorizing (e.g., Rugg & Shumaker, 1928), (d) analyses of social needs (Charters, 1923; Snedden, 1921); and, (e) curriculum-making as an inherently value-laden activity (Counts, 1932/1978) to enumerate just a few sources included and largely left uncited. Besides drawing on preceding curriculum theorizing, Tyler also drew on his experience with large curriculum development projects including the Eight Year Study mentioned above.
The “Tyler rationale” established itself as an on-going fixture in curriculum design and development not only for local school projects but at all levels: local, state, national, and international. Briefly, the Tyler rationale laid out four curriculum design and development questions for curriculum specialists:
What educational purposes should the school seek to attain?
How can learning experiences be selected which are likely to be useful in attaining these objectives?
How can learning experiences be organized for effective instruction?
How can the effectiveness of learning experiences be evaluated?
Following Dewey’s (1916, 1938/1997) notions of educational freedom, Tyler left educational purposes, values, and problem solving to local educators, modestly stating that every teacher needed to participate “at least to the extent of gaining an adequate understanding of the ends and means” (p. 126). For the first time in curriculum theorizing, the Tyler rationale laid out a structure that directly linked established purposes stated in the form of objectives to educational evaluations or assessments (Jackson, 1992). In linking objectives to assessments, Tyler’s BPoCI synthesized all of the curriculum theorizing outlined above including conversations with immediate colleagues in which Tyler, “H.H. Giles, and Hilda Taba” discussed “curriculum development and the rationale’s legendary questions” (Kridel, 2010, p. 907). Tyler’s BPoCI, adapting sources yet stingy in sharing credit to antedating curriculum theorists or immediate colleagues, recently led William Pinar (2013) to present evidence that the Tyler rationale was plagiarized, especially in reference to Hilda Taba’s contributions.
Plagiarized or just synthesized and stingy with the credit, Tyler’s BPoCI modestly presented itself as “one way of viewing an instructional program as a functioning instrument of education” (p. 1). Despite Tyler’s intentions or modest tone, Tyler’s BPoCI proved itself to be extremely “sticky,” ascendant, and proliferative since its appearance. Philip Jackson (1992), documenting curriculum theorizing through 1990, called it “the Bible of curriculum making” (p. 24). William Schubert (1986), critiquing Tyler’s BPoCI as the “dominant curriculum paradigm” (p. 171), understood Tyler’s four questions as “perennial analytic categories” (p. 188) only thirty seven years after the rationale was coherently arranged (Jackson, 1992). Serious critiques of Tyler’s BPoCI, following directions staked out in previous 1950s intellectual inconformity, clamored for recognition in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Not the least of these critiques, Joseph Schwab (1969) declared curriculum theorizing “moribund” (p. 493) due to its over-emphasis on theoretical constructs in educational psychology, or conversely, “empirical” objectives and measurements proposed by Tyler’s followers, and Herbert Kliebard (1970) excoriated Tyler’s BPoCI by linking its rationale to the dehumanizing “production model” (p. 269) from behaviorist scientific management of the 1920s. Despite these critiques and many others too numerous to review here, Tyler’s BPoCI and the Tyler rationale have provided the hegemonic logic in curriculum development and design inciting Eliot Eisner (1985) to ironically lament “Once learned, Tyler’s four questions are hard to forget” (p. 12).
Indeed, the Tyler rationale, perhaps reflecting a decontextualized and ahistorical misinterpretation (Henderson & Gornik, 2007; Kridel, 2010; Schubert, 1986;), has since provided the administrative structures for the accountability movement of the last thirty years. Important reports or laws that inherently advanced the Tyler rationale included, as examples, Equality of Educational Opportunity (Coleman et al., 1966); A Nation at Risk (National Commission on Excellence in Education [NCEE], 1984/1994); Goals 2000 (documented in U.S. Department of Education, 1998), and others. For a recent example, the Program for International Student Assessment or PISA (Organisation for Economic Cooperation & Development, 2012) works through a decontextualized implementation of the structures first present in Tyler’s BPoCI. Adding to this administrative interpretation of Tyler are a plethora of widely adopted curriculum development and design textbooks that name Tyler as foundational figure (e.g. Wiggins & McTighe, 2005) or assume the Tyler rationale (e.g., Cruichshank, Bainer-Jenkins, & Metcalf, 2012) as basis. Nonetheless, in adhering to (or remaining silent about) standardized notions of accountability, this brand of curriculum theorizing felicitously removes teachers and others from meaningfully participating in the development and design of educational purposes or evaluations, specifically, questions one and four of the Tyler rationale.
Tyler’s BPoCI, originally announcing itself as the basis for contextualized pragmatic curriculum making in local settings, paradoxically provided the hegemonic logic for curriculum development and design. Significantly, in achieving its ascendance, Tyler’s BPoCI has provided an ahistorical and decontextualized rationale. Rather than emphasizing pragmatic curriculum making in local contexts, the Tyler rationale instead broke loose from any contexts or even reference to itself as part of an audit culture ascendant since 1980s. In the present, decontextualized and ahistorical implementations of the Tyler rationale serve as bases for abstractly “ranking” national achievement outcomes in international reports, declaring some nations’ “school systems” top notch and others’ broken failures despite the fact that school systems were conceived with totally distinct historical purposes and structures. Ironically, in the present-day era of postmodern flux, accelerating change, and rapidly advancing (unjust) globalization, standardized accountability-based reforms seek only to “ratchet up” notions of uniform behaviorist-influenced objectives and high stakes assessments from a previous epoch. Contradictorily, standardized accountability-based reforms seek uniformity precisely at a time when uniform structures in business and entrepreneurial sectors are immediately dismissed as outdated, counter-productive, and against human creativity. Commenting on uniformity and standards-based reforms of his day, Charles Elliot, eighty-nine years old as ex-President of Harvard University, came out of retirement in 1923 to denounce “the blight of standardization” (in Kliebard, 1971, p. 83) that he thought killed teachers and students’ creativity and interest in study. Ninety years later and after thirty years of “ratcheting up” uniform standards and high stakes assessments, it is clear that professional-bureaucratic modes of curriculum theorizing are unlikely to provide the “results” they promised thirty years ago (NCEE, 1984/1994). Quite to the contrary, it is increasingly obvious that ahistorical and decontextualized adaptations of Tyler’s BPoCI and the Tyler rationale represent part of the highly administrated and variously termed “problem,” “crisis,” “failure,” or “dysfunction” in public schools.
What directions, then, are possible for a “renaissance in curriculum theory and development” (Wraga & Hlebowitsh, 2003, p. 425)? That is too broad of a question for this review or even a single article. Nonetheless, a few leads might be provided for triangulating ourselves out of an administrated “crisis” tied to outdated professional-bureaucratic structures from a previous era. Drawing on historical and reconceptualized curriculum theorizing, the leads that follow are addressed to curriculum theorists, teacher educators, and policy makers. Here are the leads –
Understand that teaching and learning represent personal, social, autobiographical identity-projects (Dewey, 1916, 1938/1997; Henderson 2014; Miller, 1992; Pinar, 2012; Schubert & Ayers, 1992;) and that becoming committed teachers (Jupp, 2013) or engaged students (Ladson-Billings, 2009) requires contextually-based personal and social relevance. Dynamic reconceptualized teaching and learning (Henderson, 2014) requires philosophically-and-theoretically informed notions of teachers’ professional identity and curriculum specialists’ professionalism (e.g., Tyler, 1949/2013; Shulman, 1987). Reconceptualized teaching and learning begins with understanding that teacher education and curriculum theorizing represent authentic intellectual-practical pursuits not merely technical know-how to “get results.” For recent vibrant examples of reconceptualized teacher education, see Asher (2007), Helfenbein (2008), Milam et al. (2014), Moule & Higgins (2007), Wang (2013), and other theory-practice, though a broad tradition of reconceptualized teacher education as intellectual work exists (documented in Kridel, 1999).
Recall the modesty of Tyler’s and the historical field’s (outlined in Wraga & Hlebowitsh, 2003) emphasis on contexts, engaging teachers, and localproblem solving that capacitates educators to determine purposes and develop evaluative assessments (Henderson & Gornik, 2007; Henderson, 2014; Schubert, 1986). The historical record since the 1980s demonstrated that top-down ahistorical and decontextualized legislative “reform movements” fail to engage teachers and provide narrow non-dynamic curriculum spaces (Cary, 2006). Overly-linear assumptions in the administrative interpretation of Tyler’s BPoCI need to be replaced by curriculum development and design that recognizes postmodern complexity (Doll, 1993; Slattery, 2006) and associated multivariegated programs with differing purposes and evaluations (Eisner, 1997; Foshay, 2000; Noddings, 1994; Pinar, 2004). Teachers and students need to inhabit and leverage curriculum to activate its potentials not just be administrated by (well-funded) think tanks with administrative prosthetics seeking to reach into local classrooms.
Based on broad understandings of postmodern complexity and multivariegated programs, new organizational forms and related funding structures need to emerge that replace comprehensive schools, especially James Conant’s one-stop shopping comprehensive bureaucracies. Specifically not parasitic academies or charters that currently bleed comprehensive public schools of top students and funding, the next round of curriculum development and design will incur broad changes in organizational structures and a re-commitment to public investment that echo directions in the small schools project in Chicago (Klonsky & Klonsky, 2008) but also insist on new brick-and-mortar material relations not just re-tooling old bureaucracies from a previous epoch.
These leads—beginning to suggest a transformation as sweeping and significant as those of the bureaucratic-professional epoch—will require new commitments to meliorist and social reconstructionist understandings of what is understood as “public school.” Hopefully, the courage that existed during the professional-bureaucratic epoch still exists to embark on new bold experiments in public investment and organizational structures. The required sweeping changes for a renaissance in curriculum development and design would be nothing if not an experimental transformation with no guarantees.
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