Echo Effects and Curriculum Change
by Catherine Cornbleth - 2008
Background/Context: This project is framed by a critical pragmatism, which is evident in the questioning of how social conditions and events outside schools influence classroom practice and in exploring the question of who benefits, collectively and individually, socially and politically, as well as pedagogically.
Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: The intent of this work is to better our understanding of the school-society nexus generally and, more specifically, of curriculum practice and change in relation to societal conditions and events. This goal is pursued by means of analysis of relevant research to illustrate what might be called “echo effects” in order to account for changes in curriculum policy and practice in response to external press.
Research Design: Methodologically, this is an analytic article that reexamines data and interpretations from several relevant research projects. In addition to media research relevant to the conception of “echo,” four cases/studies provide illustration of echoes and apparent “echo effects” on curriculum policy and/or practice: state-level curriculum policymaking; school administrator perceptions and practices regarding censorship challenges; teachers’ responses to new or increased state testing in academic subject areas; and teachers’ responses to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and their aftermath.
Conclusions/Recommendations: Echoes and apparent echo effects on curriculum policy and classroom practice are important because they demonstrate one means by which events and “social forces” enter into public and professional discourses, and that discourses matter, in part by framing issues, focusing attention, and rendering legitimacy. Echo effects appear to be dependent on the echoes being received or “heard” and on the extent to which they are perceived or interpreted in ways (1) compatible with one’s values and priorities, and (2) feasible to act on in current circumstances (given one’s assessment of the situation, one’s political and professional skills, and so forth). Next steps include examining the conditions under which echo effects are stronger or weaker and perhaps attempting to manage (e.g., deflect) the echoes themselves. Notably, the cases of echo effects offered here all contribute, though in varying degrees, to the narrowing of curriculum policy and practice. The cumulative curriculum effects of these echoes appear to sustain more than challenge the status quo. With greater awareness and understanding of how external influences enter in and operate, we are better able to raise questions and attempt to reshape curricular and other educational issues, not merely to participate in the debates on terms set by others or to be swept along by default.
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