In the United States, a number of different strategies have been proposed for developing curriculum. The dominant paradigm has been, and probably still is, the one proposed by Tyler (1949). Originally developed as a syllabus for a course on curriculum, this short book pulled together what had been proposed by earlier writers into a succinct set of questions which could guide curriculum construction. It accomplished this task so successfully that it is a deceptively simple yet remarkably comprehensive scheme for curriculum development. It is still in print, over four decades since its publication, and it still can serve to help people formulate their curriculum plans. Unfortunately, however, Tyler's rationale appears to fit nicely with behaviorist, positivist, and technical orientations to curriculum. As a result, his ideas have been altered by subsequent authors to support a more mechanical, algorithmic approach to curriculum.
A second paradigm developed in the 1970's, partly as a response to the extreme forms of technical rationality which were prevalent at the time (and which are still alive and well in many places). Supported by critical theory, the group of writers associated with this paradigm were concerned about social justice and the impact of race, class, and gender on education. They were particularly concerned that schools should provide experiences which would empower students and serve emancipatory interests. Pinar (1974), Apple (1979), and Giroux (1981) are examples of this approach; and Schubert (1986) has given a clear summary of the work associated with this paradigm.
A third approach to curriculum development was proposed by Schwab in the early 1970's. This alternative has been loosely labeled 'curriculum deliberation' or 'the practical' and has its origins in the work of John Dewey. Although Schwab's work is often cited, it has never achieved the prominence of the first two paradigms. It lacks the apparent simplicity of Tyler's approach and the attractive nature of critical theory. Many people have difficulties in understanding what Schwab meant by "the complex discipline of the practical" and its related method of deliberation. And to some it seems to accept the dominant epistemology of neopositivism and therefore to have little relevance for those interested in social reconstruction.
Nevertheless, the deliberative approach does present a viable alternative to technical rationality which, properly used, need not be politically restrictive. In this paper, I will try to give the reader an initial understanding of its principal features. I will give some background about the origins of Schwab's practical papers, present some of his key terms and distinctions, and discuss some of the intellectual commitments implicit in Schwab's work. To the extent that this brief exposition communicates the nature of practical curriculum deliberation, the reader can judge whether or not the deliberative approach might have a positive outcome for those who are seriously interested in making a difference in schools.
In 1969, at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Joseph Schwab delivered his now famous address to Division B, a sub-group of the organization then called "Curriculum and Objectives." He was speaking to an academic audience most of whom were engaged in curriculum research, curriculum construction, or the development of curriculum theory. His remarks were motivated by his sense that most work in the field of curriculum was not contributing to the quality of American education, and it was his intention to redirect the efforts of his audience. He chose to do this by focusing on the nature of curriculum problems and their relationships to educational theory and by using a form of argument which, characteristically, illustrated the methods which he was proposing.
As was his custom, Schwab used strong and sometimes unfamiliar language. He opened his lecture with a succinct synopsis of his argument. The field of curriculum, he said, was "moribund" if not already dead. It had "reached this unhappy state by inveterate, unexamined, and mistaken reliance on theory." It could be revived only if curriculum energies (including, presumably, the energies of his audience) were directed away from "theoretic pursuits" (the stock-in-trade of academics) towards a practical mode of operation which would be more likely to foster "sustained improvement of the schools". After an explanation of the three new and radically different "modes of operation" (the practical, the quasi-practical, and the eclectic) which he recommended his audience pursue in place of their usual academic pursuits, Schwab laid out the evidence to support his claim that the field of curriculum was seriously, if not terminally, ill. He pointed to six symptoms characteristic of fields in crisis. He noted, for example, the proliferation of models, metatheories, even meta-metatheories (some, no doubt, created by members of his audience) which constituted "irreversible flights" away from the real business of curriculum. He then provided a diagnosis, and the arguments to support his diagnosis: the "sickness" was due to the "theoretic bent" of curriculum researchers. Theory, he argued, had serious limitations (or "incompetences", as he called them). Abstraction was one "vice" of theory because "real acts, real teachers, real children [are] richer than and different from their theoretical representations." Finally, Schwab spelled out some of the details of his prescription and urged his audience to get on with their proper work: "the reasoned construction, or the reconstruction of curriculums."
You can imagine that Schwab's remarks caught the attention of his audience and that they were vociferously discussed. This, of course, was exactly what he intended. Remember that his purpose was to convince his listeners to abandon old ways and to engage in a different sort of activity. Certainly this would not happen unless his proposals were vigorously debated. And they were debated, most conspicuously at subsequent meetings of the Association. Is curriculum really moribund, already dead and buried, or is it alive and well in various centers of activity? Is it a clearly fenced and demarcated field or is it a plantation gone wild? Is it characterized by arrest, fragmentation, and discontent? Although these discussions were interesting, sometimes revealing, and often humorous, they nicely illustrated the symptoms of crisis which Schwab pointed to in his address. Instead of engaging in deliberation about what real teachers should do with real students, academics apparently preferred to take flights upward or to the sidelines by discussing the state of the field of curriculum.
Schwab's address was subsequently published with the title "The Practical: A Language for Curriculum" (Schwab: 1969 and 1970), and, because this was the first of four papers with the word 'Practical' included in the title, it has become known as Practical I. The second and third of the "practical papers" followed two and four years later (Schwab: 1971, 1973). These three papers soon were among the most frequently cited works in the two major English language curriculum journals, Curriculum Inquiry and the Journal of Curriculum Studies, and mention of these papers was virtually obligatory in all contemporary curriculum texts. But there was little evidence of an increase in practical activity. For this reason, Schwab published a fourth practical paper in 1983, ironically sub-titled "Something for Curriculum Professors to Do."
Key Terms of the Practical
In order to grasp Schwab's meaning and the full force of his arguments, we must pay close attention to the words which he used, particularly those words which refer to the central terms of his discussion. Some of these words sound familiar but are used in ways unfamiliar to contemporary audiences. For example, he used the word arts to refer to methods for achieving practical results, not to indicate aesthetic activities. Commonplace, another familiar English word, has a meaning which no longer can be found in most dictionaries, and it refers, quite specifically, to a philosophic tradition. Other key words which Schwab used are commonly found in contemporary educational discourse, and so it is easy to assume that we know what they mean. But some are used with a different sense than many readers realize. Curriculum, practical, and deliberation are examples of such words.
Curriculum is one of the more frequently used terms in educational discourse, but, in the United States at least, there is no widespread consensus about its meaning. The term can be used to refer to the content of instruction: the subjects taught, a scope and sequence chart for grades 1-4, or the syllabus for a particular subject or grade. Sometimes it refers to the outcomes of instruction, either intended outcomes (as embodied in statements of purpose, hierarchies of goals, or lists of objectives) or actual outcomes (as might be indicated by achievement tests, examination results, or observations of student behavior). On other occasions, 'curriculum' refers to what it is intended students should do; i.e. the planned activities in which they should engage (often described in curriculum guides, teachers' manuals, or lesson plans). On still other occasions, when people wish to emphasize that outcomes and activities cannot be separated in practice, 'curriculum' refers to that which students actually experience as they interact with the planned activities. Schools of thought have grown up around each of these possibilities, and it is one of the strengths of Tyler's paradigm that he was able to incorporate all four of them.
Schwab recognized that the ambiguity of the term was one source of difficulty with the first three practical papers; so he stipulated his definition of 'curriculum' in Practical 4. Observe what he said:
Curriculum is what is successfully conveyed to differing degrees to different students, by committed teachers using appropriate materials and actions, of legitimated bodies of knowledge, skill, taste, and propensity to act and react, which are chosen for instruction after serious reflection and communal decision by representatives of those involved in the teaching of a specified group of students known to the decision makers. (Schwab, 1983: 240)A great deal is packed into this definition, more than can be unwrapped in a short space. Indeed, its full significance can only be appreciated in the context of Schwab's work. But five points should be immediately clear. First, this stipulation includes three of the aspects of curriculum already mentioned: content ("legitimated matters"), outcomes ("what is successfully conveyed"), and activities ("materials and methods"). Second, the outcomes indicated ("knowledge, skill, taste, and propensity to act and react") are broader than is generally recognized and, as he later says, include unintended as well as intended effects. Third, the means of curriculum cannot be separated from its ends; inappropriate materials and methods will lead to different experiences and so have different outcomes (no matter what examination results may indicate). Fourth, curriculum is locally constructed for specific groups of students "known to the decisionmakers." Schwab is definitely not talking about constructing curriculum at a national or state level; a school or perhaps a small district is what he has in mind. Finally, the curriculum is the result of choices deliberately and carefully made by a group of people which includes teachers.
Practical also has a variety of meanings in English. Most commonly, something (a tool, a method, a plan, an idea) is said to be practical if it is useful, feasible, or applicable to experience. Often there is an implied contrast with things which are abstract and further away from experience such as ideals, speculations, or theories. Sometimes the contrast is quite explicit, as when a teacher dismisses the work of an academic or a proposed syllabus because it is "not practical." In this sense, what is practical is what works; e.g. rules of thumb, time-honored procedures, or methods which have been tested.
Although Schwab was contrasting the practical with the theoretic, he was not using the term 'practical' in this colloquial sense. For him, the practical, like the theoretic, was a mode of inquiry. Specifically, the practical indicates a way of dealing with the kinds of problems which philosophers have called "uncertain." (Gauthier, 1963). The idea that there should be different methods for different kinds of problems goes back to Aristotle (who distinguished three kinds of knowledge: theoretical, practical, and productive). Practical problems arise in specific times and places out of our concerns (perhaps ill-defined) about particular states of affairs; they compel us to adjudicate between conflicting goals and values; the grounds for choice as well as the outcomes of choice are usually uncertain; and the resolution of the question involves a decision to take action (or not to act at all). Notice the contrast with both theoretical problems and the colloquial meaning of 'practical'. Theoretical problems arise out of an understanding of various subject matters; they do not require us to make normative judgments about ends; they are investigated by relatively clear cut, though diverse, methods; and they are resolved by making general statements about what is true. Clearly, practical problems, are not theoretical problems. Equally clearly, their ambiguous origins and their uncertainty make it impossible to reduce them to a set of well defined procedures for achieving predefined goals.
Deliberation, in its colloquial sense, simply means the act of 'pondering' or of 'stopping to think'. But as Schwab uses the term it designates the method of the practical. The need for deliberation, that which distinguishes it from the merely technical or procedural, arises from the fact that we must make decisions (often involving important moral considerations) about what to do in some particular situation in the light of inadequate evidence. To deliberate, in the sense in which Schwab used the term, is to examine, within a specific context, the complex interplay of means and ends in order to choose wisely and responsibly amongst competing goods. Often this must be done even if the consequences of choice are not clear. Budget decisions, if wisely made, are a paradigm of this sort of activity. But responsible decisions about medical treatment, social policy, business affairs, and environmental issues present us with problems which share the same characteristics.
So do curriculum problems. They grow out of the particulars of situations in which something must be done. They come to us in a context where, we feel, things are not functioning as they should (otherwise why would there be a problem?). Thus, the starting point is the perception, sometimes only vaguely sensed, that something is amiss and needs correction. But the problems in the situation (what has gone wrong and why) are seldom clear at the start. In fact, it is characteristic of curriculum problems that different people have widely different perceptions about what the problem "really" is and also widely different perceptions of the situation in which the problem is located. So the first task which faces a group deliberating on a curriculum problem is to reach a common understanding of the problematic situation and of the problems in the situation which require decisions to be made. Until they have reached some agreement on these issues, it would be premature to decide upon an appropriate course of action.
The object of curriculum deliberation is to reach a warranted decision about what to do in a particular context (although sometimes the decision may be to do or change nothing): what to teach these students in this time and in this place and in view of the particular circumstances prevailing. Although the decision needs to be justified, the grounds for justification are seldom clear at the outset. Such decisions cannot be justified by a formal chain of reasoning; for example, by deducing what is appropriate to teach from a set of propositions about how children learn. Nor can they be justified, except in the most simple and therefore non problematic cases, by appeal to a set of procedures which can be routinely applied; for example, by showing that proposed activities follow from the recommendations of some philosopher, central authority, or expert unfamiliar with the situation. They can only be justified by demonstrating that they are the result of rational consideration of an adequate number and variety of alternatives.
The commonplaces of curriculum are a device which can be used throughout deliberation to help us uncover and seriously consider enough alternatives. The situations which give rise to curriculum problems invariably involve four components: teachers, subject matters, students, and milieux. Someone (a teacher) is teaching something (subject matter) to someone else (a student) in a network of social and cultural contexts (milieux). To ignore any one of these elements would be to bring an inadequate variety of alternatives to the table. But this frequently happens. For example, when trying to locate curriculum problems, many people tend to focus on just one (or at most two) of the commonplaces. Some people habitually locate the source of difficulty in the students; some focus on aspects of the milieux (the principal, parents, family values, television); others tend to see the subject matter (perhaps as organized in the text or the syllabus) as "the" problem; and some people blame the teachers. Each group thinks that a single component of the situation needs attention and downgrades the importance of others. Yet inevitably all are involved. A systematic consideration of all four components is essential. Without it, a group cannot come to an adequate understanding of the problematic situation.
The practical arts are the means by which we come to grips with the concrete and particular features of the situation being considered, determine their significance, decide which to ignore, and take account of those we deem important as we formulate a plan of action. Schwab mentions four kinds of practical arts: arts of perception enable us to see and give meaning to the relevant details; arts of problemation refine the meanings of these details so that we can decide what needs correction, thus turning a problematic situation into a situation of problems; arts of prescription enable us to generate alternative plans of action; and arts of commitment are the means by which we determine the likely outcomes of our plans and decide when to stop deliberating and take action. It is possible to translate this set of arts into identifiable steps in curriculum construction (see Pereira, 1984, 1990); but to do so in a short space would seriously distort the method Schwab had in mind by making it seem like a linear process instead of one where means and ends interact.
Schwab's approach to curriculum construction requires a great deal of its users. It can be time consuming, often it is frustrating, and it is difficult to help people develop the requisite skills, habits, and understandings. Some of the difficulties arise from the intellectual and moral commitments which deliberation assumes its users have made. These commitments -- a refusal to separate means from ends, a pluralistic stance, a choice about how theory and practice are related, and a vision of what constitutes a moral community -- are built into Schwab's ideas, but they are not always explicit. Since they may not come naturally to many people, they need some further attention.
Technical rationalists attempt to avoid questions about values by setting down procedural rules for making curriculum decisions. They assume that the ends of education are given, subject only to detailed specification. Therefore the task of the curriculum specialist is to develop these specifications and to design the means to accomplish them; and the task of the teacher is to implement the plans developed by the specialist. This is a logical approach, and one need not call oneself a technical rationalist to find it attractive. Because it promises clear sets of principles, procedures, routines, and rules for making decisions, it appeals to our need for order and coherence. To politicians, bureaucrats, and the public at large, it also seems to promise accountability by clarifying who is responsible.
In contrast, curriculum deliberation is an activity which involves its participants in consideration of fundamental questions of value right from the outset. It treats means and ends as inseparable, with means determining ends as much as ends determine means. How we accomplish our purposes helps to define the meaning of what we accomplish; medium and message are inextricably linked. Consequently, any discussion of educational means must involve discussion of educational ends; and vice versa. As a group discusses what to do, they begin to clarify the values which inform their choices; this new, collective understanding reshapes their ideas about what should be done. So the discussion goes back and forth tending to revisit and revise matters already agreed upon. Some people find it hard to tolerate such discussions because they seem chaotic and disorganized. They would prefer a more linear process with responsibilities more clearly differentiated.
Because deliberation is a systematic weighing and choosing amongst alternatives, it requires us to formulate and genuinely entertain an adequate variety of alternatives: alternative descriptions of situations, alternative formulations of problems, alternative courses of action which could be pursued, and alternative conceptions of the consequences of the proposed actions. It is not enough to view the situation from one perspective, or to locate only one problem, or to devise only one resolution, or to anticipate only one set of consequences. Educational environments are complex settings, and all relevant factors need to be considered in order to grasp them adequately and to take effective action. As has been said, at each step of the process we can use the commonplaces as a device to ensure that the deliberation has sufficient scope and an appropriate balance. But in addition, it is essential to have available a rich variety of ways to understand each commonplace.
Take as but one example, our understandings of subject matter. A poem can be read in many ways, not just one. Similarly, there are different ways to understand history, to do science, and to organize geography. No single way is, a priori, the best. Even mathematics, which many people view as a given, offers choices; it can be treated as a collection of techniques, as a structure determined by a few basic principles, as an activity, or as a set of abstractions from physical experience. Not only do mathematicians argue about such things, these differences are implicit in syllabi, textbooks, and the practices of teachers. Yet many discussions about curriculum treat subject matters as fixed entities with unambiguous meanings, well known methods, and clearly bounded content. From this standpoint, the teacher's job -- though it may be difficult to perform -- is simple to describe: communicate the meaning, develop skill in the methods, and cover the material. Missing is a sense of the complexity and variety within any subject matter, a complexity which generates conflicting meanings, alternative methods, fuzzy boundaries, and thus complementary possibilities for teaching.
What deliberation requires, then, is a particular attitude towards the way in which we must work in the world, an attitude Booth (1979) has called "methodological pluralism." There are several typical attitudes which people take when faced with intellectual variety and conflict. Some people believe that the truth will ultimately emerge from the warfare between competing ideas; some are more skeptical and enjoy exposing the defects in all the competing ideas; others believe that there is a little truth in many positions and so try to gather together the best pieces from each; and there are people who proclaim their ideas as the truth and then retreat from the battlefield. Booth suggests another possibility: two, or more, apparently contradictory positions may both be perfectly acceptable. Both can be shown to be valid, neither is better than the other, and, what is most important, one cannot combine bits of each to arrive at a better position. This is pluralism: the belief that we must live with conflicting positions and come to understand each in its own terms without trying either to reduce them to one or to multiply them unnecessarily. Although many people find this stance both unfamiliar and uncomfortable, deliberation, as Schwab envisioned it, demands that its participants embrace it and come to cherish the diversity it implies.
Deliberation requires consideration of concrete and even idiosyncratic particulars, an involvement which some, especially the theoretically inclined, may wish to avoid. It does not seek to formulate policies and procedures with uniform application; rather it seeks the most defensible course of action in the specific circumstances under consideration. As Pereira (1984) has described, particulars can be messy, disorganized, and confusing; therefore, understanding their significance and responding in appropriately specific ways is no easy task. Yet deliberation not only demands that we make sense of particulars, it prohibits us from treating them as if they were merely instances of abstract concepts.
Nevertheless, theory has an essential part to play. Some readers, impressed by Schwab's criticism of the theoretical bent of the curriculum field, have missed this central point. Remember that the practical was only one of three new modes of operation which Schwab was recommending to his audience. The second, the quasi-practical, was an extension of practical methods to larger and more extensive situations. As one moves away from classroom and school to district, state, or nation, it is increasingly difficult to be practical. One must generalize, make global recommendations, and formulate principles with broad application; in other words, one can only be quasi-practical. There is, however, a "special obligation ... to see to it that quasi-practical decisions are not mistaken for 'directives' -- either by those who make them or those who are to translate them into action." (Schwab, 1970: 8) The third mode of operation, the eclectic, "recognizes the usefulness of theory to curriculum decision, takes account of certain weaknesses of theory as ground for decision, and provides some degree of repair of these weaknesses." (Schwab, 1970: 10)
Obviously, Schwab values the contribution which theory can make to practice. Less obviously, he has made a particular choice about the relationship of theory to practice. Many people do not realize that there is a choice to be made. The usual view is that theory is applied to practice just as one applies principles to cases. If, for example, the general propositions embodied in a theory of learning are given, one simply translates them so that they refer to the situation under consideration. Notice the one-way direction of the argument -- from theory to practice -- which is characteristic of this view. On numerous occasions, Schwab made it quite clear that this is not the relationship which he had in mind. Nor did he choose a dialectical view of the relationship where common features make it possible for theory and practice to interact so that each can move forward. Instead, as Reid (1990) has shown, Schwab chose the problematic view which sees both theory and practice as modes of inquiry, each competent in its own sphere. Although they have radical differences, each can inform the other provided we pay attention to these differences.
Development of Community
Schwab made his choice on moral grounds, as Reid makes clear. It stemmed from his vision of what a democratic society should be; other choices about the theory-practice relationship would have been inconsistent with this vision. If he had accepted the usual view that practice can be derived from theory, then who really would determine what are appropriate practices? The experts who control the theory would control the practice. But important social decisions -- including, of course, decisions about curriculum -- are too important to be left to experts. Not only do experts have their own kinds of biases, they usually have no personal knowledge of, no individual concern for, nor any moral connection with those whom their decisions will affect. The dialectical view presents a similar difficulty because the dialectical process is in the hands of expert dialecticians who may well be influenced by political and social views not shared by all. "For Schwab a theory/practice relationship based on enquiry reflects and supports what he considers to be the best kind of society -- one which ... involves, directly or indirectly, the whole community, not a sub-group of dialecticians or experts, in the solution of practical problems." (Reid, 1990: 22)
The concept of community is central to Schwab's vision. In a lecture he gave in 1976, he told a story about running away from home when he was nine or ten. The story nicely illustrates the chief aspects of the kind of community he had in mind: people both helped and were helped; they honored differences rather than condemned them; they related to each other as persons, not as holders of roles or ranks; they collaborated to achieve mutually beneficial ends; they contributed to each other's sense of self; and authority, though present, was muted. (Schwab, 1976) Communities with these characteristics are important for the maintenance of social and political coherence, and they also contribute to the development of individuality. Schwab wanted schools to be learning communities; that is, places where community is learned as well as communities where learning takes place.
Groups deliberating about curriculum should also be communities, communities of inquirers looking for what should be done to and for "a specified group of students known to the decisionmakers." In Practical 4, Schwab defines the composition of these groups (which, at a minimum, should include representatives of all four commonplaces) and discusses the education of people who could lead them (which would give curriculum professors something practical to do). And, in terms which parallel his characterization of communities, he describes the way curriculum groups should function: differences amongst members of the group are deliberately exploited so that they can discover one another; differences, in fact, are sought out and used to advance the inquiry, not avoided or treated as barriers to progress; although members of the group, such as the principal or a student, may be chosen because of their roles or ranks, every effort is made to treat them as colleagues in the inquiry; discussion progresses as a cooperative effort, not as a debate; one of the special functions of the chair is to enhance the competence of group members; and experts are brought in as consultants, but not given special status or opportunities to control the deliberation.
To the extent that this kind of community can be established, we have a mode of curriculum change quite different from the popular dissemination model. Curriculum, Schwab reminds us, is not developed in Moscow and telegraphed to the provinces. Instead, "it arises at home, seeded, watered, and cultivated by some or all of the teachers who might be involved in its institution." (Schwab, 1983: 258) Curricular deliberation also has the potential to be educative. As the group works together towards an emerging common purpose, their ideas change, even their ideas about how curriculum should be changed. Because deliberation can "provide a basis for teachers' recognition of themselves as masters of a special lore and competence" (Schwab, 1983: 264) deliberation can empower teachers. This kind of learning community may be an all too rare occurrence, but should we expect less of our schools?
* An earlier version of this paper was first published in German: "Eine Einfuhrung in Joseph J. Schwabs Theorie Curricularer Eroterung" ("An Introduction to Joseph J. Schwab's Theory of Curriculum Deliberation"). Bildung und Erziehung 45.2 (June, 1992): 159-174.