Year after year as a kindergarten teacher, my curriculum document was (and to some extent, still is) the foundation of my teaching practice. I would use it to think about what I needed to teach students, how I was going to teach (grouping specific expectations together), when I was going to teach a given subject area. Grundy (1994) describes this experience as a “taken for granted view of the curriculum as something that is given to, or provided for, students” (p. 27). It was only until very recently I began to wonder: Where does a curriculum document come from?
I’ve been trying to write a short blog post on Te Whāriki, New Zealand’s national early childhood curriculum for quite some time now. Every time I sat down to write, I found myself rearranging sections to introduce the document, only to become frustrated with my writing. I must have written two or three drafts – all of them ending up in the trash bin because they just felt too descriptive. This morning, I decided to rethink how I could write about Te Whāriki. I came to the conclusion that I needed to start at the very beginning – by asking my initial wondering – where does a curriculum document come from?
Learning or talking about a curriculum begins with the understanding that a curriculum is not a neutral document, but a cultural artifact, representing the “desires, aspirations and ambitions for the child as a future contributor to society from the viewpoint of powerful adults” (Duhn, 2006, p. 84). A curriculum carries with it, underpinning ideologies (what we believe childhood is), beliefs about knowledge (what should be taught), and changing values (Davis, 2007). Hence from this perspective, curriculum analysis can be considered to be political analysis. Through this understanding of curricula as cultural artifacts, early childhood education philosophies (for example, the Full Day Early Learning Kindergarten curriculum, Te Whāriki, and the Reggio Emilia approach) produce unique and specific constructions of childhood and the image of the child. These constructions are rooted in choices – choices about who we think the child is, and these choices have a significant impact on the construction of our image of the child and childhood. These choices also determine the institutions we provide for children and the pedagogical work that adults and children undertake in these institutions (Dalhberg, Moss, & Pence, 1999). Since our constructions of childhood and children are productive, meaning they directly influence early childhood education systems, the pedagogical work within in these institutions also implies choice, the first and most basic being “What is our image of the child?” (Rinaldi, 2006).
I believe that education is political. I believe that our education systems, curriculum documents, and teaching practices are our answers to the question – “What is our image of the child?”.
The child is defined by our way of looking at and seeing him. But since we see what we know, the image of the child is what we know and accept about children. This image will determine our way of relating with children, our way of forming expectations for them, and the world we are able to build for them. Rinaldi, 2006, p. 7
What do you think? Can a curriculum be neutral?
Dahlberg, G., Moss, P., & Pence, A. R. (1999). Beyond quality in early childhood education and care: Postmodern perspectives. Psychology Press.
Davis, R. (2007). Whose education is it anyway?: Why it is important that teachers understand and question the broader contexts shaping the curriculum. New Zealand Journal of Teachers’ Work, 4(1), 32-38.
Duhn, I. (2006). The making of global citizens: Traces of cosmopolitanism in the New Zealand early childhood curriculum, Te Whāriki. Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood, 7(3), 191-202.
Grundy, S. (1994). The curriculum and teaching. Understanding teaching: Curriculum and the social context of schooling, 27-39.
Rinaldi, C. (2006). In dialogue with Reggio Emilia: Listening, researching and learning. Psychology Press.