Curriculum, Democracy, and Evaluation
by Felicity Haynes - 1986
The "hard" use of authority to produce change confronts obstacles that transcend administrative strategies. This article presents a conceptual analysis of authority and its constraints and shows how current conceptions of democracy, evaluation, and authority are interdependent. (Source: ERIC)
But man, proud man, drest in a little brief authority,
Most ignorant of what hes most assured,
His glassy essence, like an angry ape,
Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven
As make the angels weep.
Shakespeare Measure for Measure
Imagine, as Dickens intended, a classroom in Victorian England in which three gentlemenMr. Gradgrind, Mr. McChoakumchild, and an anonymous government officer, a professional pugilist; always in training, always with a system to force down the general throat like a bolushave asked the prize pupil, Bitzer, to demonstrate his knowledge of a horse:
Quadruped. Graminivorous. Forty teeth, namely twenty-four grinders, four eye-teeth, and twelve incisors, sheds coat in the spring, in marshy countries sheds hoofs, too. Hoofs hard, but requiring to be shod with iron. Age be known by marks in mouth. Thus, (and much more) Bitzer. Now, girl number twenty, said Mr. Gradgrind, You know what a horse is!
Girl number twenty is Sissy Jupes, daughter of a circus performer, who having been brought up among horses knows far more about feeding and managing them than Bitzer ever will, but has not the necessary propositional knowledge to make sense of Bitzers definition. She fails the criteria for success in the classroom and leaves classified a failure.1 This may be fiction, and pretty heavy handed at that, but it is strongly reminiscent of American blacks who claimed in this century that they were being unfairly discriminated against in standardized tests that failed them but did not take into account their culture and street wisdom. In the twentieth century an understanding of the networks of rules underlying the so-called disciplines is at least as important as the memorization of facts. However, the situation exists in each of these cases where those who can gain practical wisdom outside the educational system help to invalidate the authority of that institution. There is too large a gap between formal knowledge requirements and practical wisdom, between abstract forms of knowledge and conventional realms of meaning.
Once upon a time, or so the mythmakers would have us believe,2 the educational institutions were so integral a part of the community that children were taught what they wanted and needed to learn in a completely natural way, because it was known by all to be valuable and the truth. Where goals were shared within a sufficiently small, static, homogeneous, and innocent society, the teacher was in authority and an authority for the same reasonhe or she promoted the legitimated truth. Knowledge was passed on to future generations as the accepted means of survival. As communities grew in size and complexity, it became possible to make the distinction just mentioned between realms of meaning and forms of knowledge.
The forms of knowledge to which one aspired were those apparently logically distinct and irreducible forms that covered the domain of true propositions and had their own truth concepts, a distinct logical form, and their own key concepts. While fields of knowledge, less systematic and unique than forms, were possible within a curriculum, Hirst originally excluded from his definition of knowledge all those understandings that did not provide a pattern for curriculum unitsexperience, attitudes, symbols, skills, feelings; those meanings that included knowledge of people and places and that enabled an individual to function practically in a societyall that is subsumed under realms of meaning above.3 His definition of a desirable liberal education covered simply the forms of knowledge, by definition more deliberate and controlled and certainly more easily assessable than tacit understanding. Such forms of knowledge pretended to put the curriculum beyond political debate and educational authority was maintained by easily measurable and definable standards: As Turner states, Literate experts were paid . . . to devise logical plans, order concepts into related areas, establish taxonomic hierarchies, denature ritual by theologising it, freeze thought into philosophy, and impose the grid of law on custom.4
Authority is distinguishable from power in one single respect, that it is willingly and without coercion accepted by those under it. Acknowledgement of the legitimacy of such authority is an essential feature of the concept. Its chief source of legitimation is upward, from below, for when the legitimation is a purely top-down process it becomes authoritarianism and virtually indistinguishable from power, of which authority is a legitimate and distinct subset. Experts are typically well intentioned, and possible side effects of protecting and perpetuating power cliques and protecting the arena of power by withholding knowledge from certain cultural groups need not be intentional. The elephant who dances with the chickens exercises a power of life and death over them even though he has no wish to trample them underfoot. If chickens are trampled underfoot it is because they choose to join in, at least where the dance is not compulsory. Knowledge by the twentieth century had come to mean Hirsts propositional knowledge within his forms of knowledge, leaving realms of meaning to cover those tacit forms of understanding that are little more than the inchoate shared conventions of the society and not specifically the province of educational institutions. Here as in simpler and more innocent societies, power is authorized because it is seen to be promoting what is generally believed to be both right and true. The curriculum contains what is seen to be in keeping with the values of the time, and where the uneducated see no injustice in the system of the time the authority of those in power is legitimized, simply because it is accepted, even if tacitly, by them.
Let us examine some of the consequences for the limits of authority of assuming this distinction between knowledge and meaning. The larger and more complex an educational institution becomes, the more likely the law of inertia is to take effect. Teachers notoriously teach in the manner in which they were taught. What was originally seen as a means to an endin this case, the systematization of disciplines in order to assess progress in worthwhile activitiesbecomes so embedded in practice it is seen as the end of education. The examinations that were originally intended to measure success in acquiring worthwhile skills became in the sixties (in Australia at least) the goal of the secondary systemcompulsory written external examinations at the tenth- and twelfth-year levels. The objectives of educational institutions were viewed by most simply in linear terms, as an attempt to move beyond realms of meaning toward the formal disciplines of propositional knowledge, and even better to batteries of multiple-choice questions in which literary skills were no longer required, simply the ability to pick out the most acceptable answers from sets of alternatives. The more sophisticated the disciplinary structures, the wider the gap between institutional testing of those structures and social awareness.
Authority tends to become authoritarianism (see Figure 1) in a frantic attempt to persuade the unconvinced that forms of knowledge are good for them. The result may be a sequence in which extreme views form and collide, to the detriment of constructive authority relations. Let me offer an example of this. Here in Australia we seem determined to repeat mistakes made in the United States in the sixties arising from the concern for social and economic justice. Because of the vast geographical areas to be catered to, we still have large centralized bureaucracies that decide what shall be the texts, the syllabuses, the examination requirements, even the cut-off grades for entry into all tertiary institutions. The experts wield power, and even though subject areas have their own joint syllabus committees, which provide some input from schools, teacher associations, and tertiary institutions, the final decision regarding curriculum content, examination format, and assessment guidelines comes not from teachers within the curriculum and research branches but from government-employed superintendents, who control not only the syllabuses but the employment and transfer of teachers. Such a situation was historically acceptable as long as the testing system organized by them, even if it did not seem directly relevant to life skills, offered some guarantee of a successful career and accelerated financial expectations for those who passed. However in the current social climate, passing centralized tests does not guarantee entry into tertiary education and makes less relative difference to ultimate financial reward.5
In a hasty decision to rectify this alienation from the state schools, there has been a radical attempt to revise the secondary school syllabus. University entrance exams in the forms of knowledge are viewed as symptomatic of authoritarianism because they are seen as pertinent only to those 20 percent who go on to study for professions in tertiary education. Now life skills such as media studies, social studies, agricultural practice, manual arts, are seen as more socially relevant, therefore deserving more attention in the syllabus.
This is clearly a political stance in a democratic society. Political activists and/or romantic idealists have constructed a confrontational situation between certain social interests and the existing state educational authority, which was dominated by the universities and increasingly considered authoritarian. The state has been described in terms of its coercive and punitive power to fail those who drop out, and in terms of an intricate and impersonal bureaucratic machinery that perpetuates an apparently archaic system. The apparent solution has been to deny the value of the existing structures of authority so that people can overcome the alienation that prevents them from realizing their full potentialities and from achieving fruitful personal relations with others. This would remove the coercion of failing and enhance the students prospects for achieving a democratic equality with those who earlier had held authority.
The ideal is the romantic one espoused by the deschoolers in the early sixties. The assumption is that by liberating students from the compulsion of forms of knowledge the school could and should transmit realms of meaning more relevant to the student than the largely middle-class values held and transmitted by the experts. The authority of the teacher was dismissedas Freire says, No one teaches another, nor is anyone self-taught . . . the students are critical co-investigators in dialogue with the teacher.6 This is a romantic and unrealistic vision of schools, one that denies schools the authority they require in order to fulfill any educative function, especially when it accords equal educational power to the mass media or commercially produced home-computer programs. Education implies standards and consists of initiating others into activities, modes of contact and thought that have standards written into them. Perhaps the traditional forms of assessment had moved too far from public standards, but it was a mistake to assume that failure could be removed from the institution without at the same time removing its authority. It may appear to be democratic, but as Nyberg and Farber point out in their article in this issue; it has disastrous educational consequences for educational authority in that it leaves the schools with no specific role to play and no teachers equipped specifically to be experts in their fields.
Ironically, in Australia it was found that the democratic revisions did not return authority to the community. Neither parents, principals, nor teachers were prepared to accept responsibility for implementing and evaluating the new proposals, claiming lack of expertise. In Victoria it was deemed necessary to pass legislation to ensure that parents served on school boards and discussed curriculum and educational standards. But in most cases the task of implementing programs and finding ways of evaluating them was left in the hands of the central bureaucracies whose power the move had been designed to override.
Perhaps a recognition of the need for standards in schools, even if some students must fail, will overcome the problem. The current move in the United States toward quality as defined by the original forms of knowledge or disciplinary-based education is symptomatic of a regression to the other end of the continuum. However, quality, standards, disciplines, are a necessary rather than a sufficient condition for educational authority, as my initial extract from Dickens showed. The U.S. trends will simply be regressive unless some steps are taken to overcome the social alienation caused by the imposition of forms of knowledge perceived as irrelevant to the practices of the society.7
I believe part of the impasse lies in accepting as a foundation for educational decisions the simplistic linear model in Figure 1, which aligns forms of knowledge with the authoritarians and realms of meaning with the community. This model underlines (erroneously in my opinion) current acceptance and application of Piagetian stage-developmental cognitive theory as leading to some innate or a priori truth. It relies on the mistaken assumption that the forms of knowledge are value-free and separate from social values, that being abstract and formal they are universal and thus in a neo-Kantian sense necessarily true. Hirst himself in his earlier writing had assumed thisbasing his account of forms of knowledge on fairly positivist assumptions that the more systematic a discipline was the more likely it was to be true, even if the criteria for truth varied from discipline to discipline. R. S. Peters, while he espoused a more moderate line, held to an implicit belief in the systematicity of rationality to resolve practical problems by abstracting them to broader principles. Later, Hirst was to admit that the objectives of education should not be confined to propositional knowledge, which would simply transmit conservative systems as true. As he put it,
The conceptual and logical analysis which indicates the divisions I have stressed is a matter of the logical relations and truth criteria to be found at present in our conceptual schemes . . . that there exist any elements in thought that can be known to be immune to change, making transcendental demands on us, I do not accept. Being rational I see rather as a matter of developing conceptual schemes by means of public language in which words are related to our forms of life, so that we make objective judgements in relation to some aspect of that form of life.8
While the new sociologists sharply questioned and criticized the authority of the school system, they made explicit the conservative values that made teaching male line genealogies of Tudor and Stuart kings accepted practice even in Australian schools during the last thirty years. The forms of knowledge were built up from shared values and could not claim to be based on objective judgments. Yet we do not avoid transmitting values by ceasing to teach conservative forms of knowledge as if they were universal truths. Forms of knowledge may have encapsulated values unacceptable to a changing society but even when they are modified rather than totally discarded, the values are transmitted nonetheless. Bruners multimedia MACOS (Man: A Course of Study), which continues to be used in the United States, Great Britain, and Australia, may indirectly teach such values as toughness and survival in a difficult environment as if they were as basic to human as to animal studies. The difference between that and the more formal systems of evaluation is that one is not failed for disagreeing with the values transmitted, but rather encouraged to discuss them. The values are presented for discussion rather than as immutable facts that represent the truth and the whole truth.
One must make the one-way progress toward propositional knowledge a two-way interaction between community values and legitimated disciplinary forms (see Figure 2). That is partly to deny the distinction Nyberg and Farber make in their article in this issue between sociopolitical and curricular realms of power, at least in as complex and rapidly changing societies as ours. The two are intimately related so long as compulsory schooling is deemed necessary to transmit what is considered worthwhile. It may be that as we finally discard the old rule books of parsing and analysis, we have to accept the responsibility of finding new ways of defining and measuring literacy; that if we decide not to assess the understanding of physics solely in terms of success in learning formulae or solving equations, we have to find new means of evaluating understanding of complex ideas.
That should not daunt us. Even if all that appeared on the old report forms were marks in the examinations in math, botany, or literature, sociopolitical values of docility, punctuality, and neatness were implicitly evaluated as well, though the manner of evaluation may have been more qualitative than quantitative. The evaluation was often made in the behaviorist mode rather than by written tests or catechisms, but compliance was expected, and indeed such habits often formed part of the standard presentation of the propositional forms of knowledge. It may be that new standards in education will evaluate such things as group cooperation and self-esteem on an equal status with competitive ranking in the disciplinary areas. It may simply be that new tests are standardized to evaluate such new subjects as computer studies, politics, aesthetics, and that these will gradually become as rigidified and irrelevant as some of the examination requirements seem today. I do not presume that there is a necessary progression toward formalization of assessment, as Toulmin seems to have done.9 The emphasis on quality need not presume regression to past methods. Current debate between the relative values of D. T. Campbells mainstream evaluation and Stakean case-studies provides some evidence for a healthy attempt at compromise between the extremes of anarchy and authoritarianism.10
One of the difficulties here is to realize how deeply values are embedded in our epistemological structures. The forms of life that shape both our practices and our articulated systems of knowledge are very rarely questioned at the deepest level.11 Likewise, authority is usually inaccessible to reflection because it is embedded in the very structures and power practices that shape consciousness and reflection. This thesis is so abstractly presented that it seems both trite and truistic. A very brief case study of recent changes in evaluation and authority in moral education may make the point more concretely.
In the sixties, Kohlberg proposed a universal principle of justice that, as the old linear model required, moved toward abstract and systematized principles to replace the currently accepted practices of moral education.12 One was tested not so much on the content of ones answer to the hypothethical problems set, but on the scope and consistency of the logical framework used to answer it. He traced six stages of moral development, a three-level progression from an egocentric understanding of fairness based on individual need (stages one and two), to a conception of fairness anchored in the shared conventions of societal agreement (stages three and four), and finally to a principled understanding of fairness that rested on the freestanding logic of equality and reciprocity (stages five and six). The theory was built on a concept of justice that most Americans had accepted tacitly even before Rawls had made it explicit, just as education in general had proceeded using concepts of truth that most people had accepted without question. Moreover, Kohlbergs model had the advantage of being divisible into fairly well-defined stages, so that one could draw up criteria to assess what moral stage ones students had reached.
Like the traditional curriculum still offered in most Australian schools, where science and math dominate because of their implied objectivity and ease of assessment, the Kohlberg model had the twin advantages of being widely and unquestioningly accepted and of being relatively easy to assess, especially by those who had already, even if unknowingly, adopted the principles on which it rested. It was even in keeping with the romantic sixties revolt against failure, for while there was a level six tantamount to sainthood to aspire to, one was moral even at stage one, even if a different conception of morality was being applied.
It was realistic of Kohlberg to assert that morality could not be taught, even if it could be encouraged by forcing confrontation with different values. He was more concerned with evaluating and encouraging moral thinking than with teaching moral truths. Ironically, because of the tacit faith in measurement as the means of achieving objectivity, just as in the IQ tests, the statistics of the average gradually became the basis for evaluation. Kohlberg found that most Americans did not progress beyond stages three and four. Because by definition average teachers cannot understand higher levels, they could not and would not encourage their students to aspire higher, so that a vicious circle is set up whereby the norm defines and perpetuates expectations. Educators need to be aware that in their role of defining values and making knowledge amenable to evaluation they have the power to implement those values and disciplines for better or for worse. As Campbell said, The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.13 That seems a necessary concomitant of recognizing the values embedded in forms of knowledge and seeking to evaluate students mastery of them. It also raises problems for the authority of teacher-as-expert. Is the better teacher the person who, as in the past, transmits the values society has deemed to be worthwhile? If so, then the conservative teacher who operates at the norm is more likely to lit general expectations and be deemed fit to evaluate by his or her standards the students entrusted to his or her care. People who have inordinately high IQs or have reached level six because they do not fit societys general expectations are not generally seen to be good teachers. Traditionally, as Kohlberg reminds us, their reward has not been promotion, but hemlock, crucifixion, or assassination.
The old problem of who evaluates the evaluators is hereby revived. It becomes even more problematic when one of the worthwhile values to be transmitted is changechange, of course, that is positive. This is where the democratic ideal enters the picture, along with the dangers and advantages to authority of introducing pluralistic perspectives. After Kohlbergs work had received much attention from educators, Gilligan brought to the fore the fact that Piaget and Kohlberg had based their theory of moral development on a biased sample that consisted mostly of males. She suggested that because there were far fewer women who seemed to move beyond stage three on Kohlberg's system, the so-called universal principle of justice applied mainly to men. For women, Gilligan claimed, the reconstruction of moral understanding was based not on the universality of individual rights, but rather on a very strong sense of being responsible to the world.14 She discerned a vague sequential development, from an initial concern with survival to a focus on goodness and finally to a reflective understanding of care as the most adequate guide to the resolution of conflict in human relationships. The evaluation of a scale of moral maturity that led through the adolescent questioning of conventional morality to the discovery of individual rights was shown to be inadequate to meet a feminine scale of values. The morality of responsibility stands apart from the path defined by Kohlberg.
What are the implications of this aberrant point of view for educational authority? Should teachers continue to promote, as they had possibly done unquestioningly in the past, one system of morality for men and one for women? That sort of pluralism simply reinforces old differences and promotes confrontation. The democratic principle requires a freedom of choice, so that in theory, males could choose the caring route and females the pathway to human rights if they wanted to. Would this have disastrous consequences for society? Is the right to choose to think like a male or female as empty as giving a male the right to bear children? A genuine choice would require that both systems are equally taught and evaluated, and neither is said to be better than another. Perhaps it would be more functional to cull out the values common to both cultures and work on some compromise adrogynous morality. Such decisions will need to be made by educational authorities, at some level, and be represented in classroom practices; refusing to make a decision is after all to choose for the status quo.
Even should we make the linear model more flexible so that the forms of knowledge are in constant contact with social practices, and vice versa, we have not yet shown how to initiate change in institutional power. That authority requires consent is true by definition and does not enable us to decide how explicit and how open to external assessment we could or should make our educational practices. The tacit power element of authority can be even more effective than the coercion of legislated systems. When it is accepted uncritically through a balanced social system like that defined nostalgically in the opening paragraphs, it not only measures the ability to get the subject to do what is required by the educator, but limits the ability of both power-holder and subject to see beyond the present actuality, or to modify preferred outcomes. That was certainly true of Kohlbergian morality, accepted by both sexes as appropriate until one representative rebelled against having to accept classification as, if not a failure, at least no better than average on a masculine scale. As Nyberg and Farber remark in their article in this issue, intelligent disobedience is the peculiar desideratum of educational authority. And the same disobedience is desirable both from students and educators. But how to hold it in check? The problem still remains to decide by what authority the disciplinary forms are modified and broad social objectives are defined and evaluated.
Authority is defined in terms of a balance between the extremes of anarchy and authoritarianism. Perhaps one can lessen the possibility of drastic pendulum swings from one extreme to another by redefining the situation in triadic rather than dyadic terms. De Jouvenel speaks of the three variable attributes of power relations.15 They are in various proportions extensive (that is, they cover a broad range of complying power subjects), comprehensive (they cover a number of different areas of choice and activity of the power subject), and intensive (the bidding of the power-holder can be pushed far without loss of compliance). The democratic movement of the last century focused on the first attribute in enlarging the extent of its pupils without changing content. The English public school, for instance, opened its doors to all those who could pass the eleven-plus entrance exam. By maintaining its standards of excellence and its separation from the mainstream of English life, it deepened the schism between realms of meaning and forms of knowledge in the broader society, just as Gradgrinds systems had done. One had freedom to choose to enter it only at the cost of having to meet its criteria of excellence.
The second attribute, comprehensiveness, may be increased as well. This call to do so espouses pluralism, as Nash did,16 in which testing, classifying, and labeling are deliberately avoided. As I have argued, this call, in its extreme form, denied the desirability of educators defining any standards by which students could be evaluated, and in principle removed a need for schools, thus removing their authority. In its weaker form pluralism eschews standardized testing in certain restricted forms but acknowledges the need for some evaluation in more varied and tolerant forms. The need to accept broader values made it difficult for teachers operating from conservative traditions to adapt, thustemporarily at leasteroding their authority.
We have not yet considered the third attribute of power, that of intensity, in relation to education, though it is closely linked with comprehensiveness. For if schools are concerned only with academic disciplines that bear little apparent relation to the everyday lives of students, there is little reason for students to comply with the restricted authority presented them. The solution would appear to be to teach the disciplines alongside broad cultural and educational values. Indeed, this has happened in some private schools, where Catholics, Jews, Aborigines, and the Amish are given freedom to establish mini-communities in which their values are clearly defined. Control is granted over such things as dress, diet, sexual habits, and religious observances, as well as the forms of knowledge, all constantly monitored and deliberately kept apart from other competing systems. This coherence, even if it might appear myopic, tends to fulfill the criterion of intensity and can maintain authority as effectively, albeit artificially, as the innocent communities of our second paragraph.
The democratic principle would seem to have to allow such enclosed communities to exist, especially educationally. But a ghetto mentality discourages change and growth and increases the risk of misunderstanding and hence hostile confrontation with external groups. The argument against such closed systems is not on principle, especially when one is free to join or leave such closed communities at will. It is rather a practical problem of maintaining innocence within a broader society, one that often competes with its values without imposing authoritarian restrictions on communication. Intensity declines when such social groups have to compete with, say, the hedonistic or materialistic values promulgated by the media. One must decide how extensive the authority is to be, whether it demands total isolation, as with the Amish or some fundamentalist religious sects, or whether it is to be a supplementary school operating on weekends to maintain traditional language and cultural skills, such as a small Japanese school here in Perth. The scope of evaluation will vary accordinglyJapanese students seem to have little difficulty in having to succeed within at least two systems simultaneously, and their loyalty to Japanese culture seems all the stronger for having been chosen rather than imposed.
I have been trying so far to show how educational authority relies on a continual openness to new possibilities. For while it is responsible for setting standards through systematization, such standards must continually be kept in touch with social practices for the authority to be accepted with commitment. To use Toulmins evolutionary model without the biological implications, a fitter ecological variation is encouraged by letting some varieties segregate and then occasionally interbreed.
Small communities such as Sparta were intensive and relatively successful while left alone, but fell before the greater powers of Greece and Rome. Social change, economic expansion, conquest, even in this age, lead to a clash of codes and to conflict between competing views of the world. People are led to reflect about which story of the world is functional, which code more useful. As these matters are discussed and reflected on, vocabulary is refined, and people come to accept higher-order principles of a procedural sort for determining such principles. This, however, does not make the higher-order principles true or immutable. No matter how far we agree on broad principles of justice, democracy, goodness, or authority, our current social practices will give a different meaning to those principles. Awareness of the continual need to modify as well as purify the dialect of the tribe to keep in touch with those practices can only assist in maintaining genuine authority. That does not make social change a passive evolution in which individuals have no power to change the course of events. There are broader constraints operating on education over which educational authorities have little direct control. These include federal and state governments, private and business funding bodies, and alternative educational institutions as well as students, parents, and other individuals.
I am offering a picture of a real world in which we can make principles extinct either by not acting or by overreacting. We have the responsibility to shape the world through our knowledge of it. The so-called aspiration to a universal principle of justice is shown by Gilligan to be an artifact of a system in much the same way that mass, force, and energy are artifacts of a system of physics. This does not make them in any way worthless or untrue. It is to say that people construct, for reasons that society considers good, ways of seeing the world that become more and more systematized and reified until they become self-perpetuating truths. The linear way of viewing such a process makes it easy to assume progress for whichever set of values we are working from and eventually to mistake means for ends. A more holistic approach requires that we see that authority has inbuilt limits arising from complex boundaries of rationality, personal relevance, justice, and individual appropriateness.
We have no pretensions to ultimate truth. Our guiding principles are not absolutes, and where they are definitive of values they are so because we have decided collectively that this shall be so. What I have been trying to do in this article is to present a conceptual analysis of authority and its constraints, and to show by examples from education in the United States, Britain, and Australia how our current conceptions of democracy, evaluation, and authority are interdependent. To define them without taking their interdependence into account is a mistake. I have focused my remarks on some of the constraints that operate on authority so that educators may avoid methods that lead to such fantastic tricks as make the angels weep.