PME 810 – Module 1 – Mainstream curriculum conceptions

Mainstream conceptions over time

I found the readings very interesting, although it was difficult to get a historical sense of how curricula have evolved along with cultural and societal changes. References to historical periods are made, and I might only have a surface level understanding of that decade from movies or television shows!

One of the things that stood out to me was how several of the authors noted large changes in focus on different conceptions based on a combination of:

1) special interest groups acting as curriculum advocates (Schiro, 2013, p. 8), and

2) changes in culture, such as:

  • a) social conservatism (Sowell, 2005, p. 40) pushing for only essential subject teaching and the launch of Sputnik I in the 1950s causing renewed focus on “hard” subjects like mathematics and physics
  • b) self-actualization approaches becoming popular in the 1960s and 70s (Sowell, 2005, p. 51)
  • c) the new left Neo-Marxist movement in the 1970s that focused on social reconstruction (McNeil, 2009, p. 32-33)

Vallance and McNeil both discussed curriculum as a method to fill roles in society (McNeil, 2009, p. 76) and for individuals to fill those roles and thereby gain “personal success” (Vallance, 1986). The economic situation or cultural concern for students’ futures would likely cause curriculum advocates to view the ideal curriculum in that manner, potentially moving away from the humanistic approach or cognitive skills conceptions.

Similarly, technology no doubt has an effect on the development of curricula. For example, computer assisted instruction in the 70s and 80s lead to an increase in the popularity of curriculum as technology in the form of mastery learning (Sowell, 2005, p. 48-49) . The “Knowledge Integration Environment” program allowed students from various disciplines to research and share their diverse range of experience on the internet to create “learner-constructed evidence” (McNeil, 2009, p. 72).

However, after reading the New Zealand curriculum document, I felt that the humanistic, growth-centred, personalized approach has consistently been an important part of curricula. According to the study, teachers most agreed with the humanistic conception of curriculum (Brown, 2006, p. 5). Similar to the self-actualization conception becoming a part of each teachers’ understanding of “good” education (Vallance, 1986), I believe the humanistic approach to teaching will always be one of the educator’s main priorities. As our conception of learning and technology keep changing, our approach will always end up being focused on the development of the student as a learner, as discussed in Vallance’s (1986) new conception.


McNeil, J. D. (2009).  Contemporary curriculum in thought and action (7th ed.).  Hoboken, NJ:  John Wiley.  Pages 1, 3-14, 27-39, 52-60, 71-74.

Schiro, M. S. (2013).  Introduction to the curriculum ideologies.  In M. S. Schiro, Curriculum theory: Conflicting visions and enduring concerns (2nd ed., pp. 1-13). Thousand Oaks, CA:  Sage.

Sowell, E. J. (2005). Curriculum: An integrative introduction (3rd ed., pp. 37-51). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

Vallance. (1986). A second look at conflicting conceptions of the curriculum. Theory into Practice, 25(1), 24-30.

Brown, G. T. L. (2006). Conceptions of curriculum: A framework for understanding New Zealand’s Curriculum Framework and teachers’ opinions. Curriculum Matters, 2, 164-181.

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