January 20

Unit 1 – Critical Theory

Power, control, and dominance are all words that could be used to describe the hierarchical structure of an education system.  Reflecting back on everything discussed in this week’s lecture notes, I cannot help but grasp onto the section discussing education, particularly the power relations that take place within the education system.  Having just completed a Curriculum Development course, I am recalling discussions from that class.  In learning about the history of early curriculum development, I was astonished to learn the primary goals established in the early 1900’s remain the same today.  Franklin John Bobbitt has been considered the ‘father of curriculum studies’.  He equated education to being like a factory; we, as teachers, are merely creating a product.  We are shaping young people to fit into future careers, rather than taking the time to care and nurture their interests and provide opportunities for exploration.  Bobbitt asserted that we are simply preparing children for adulthood with the future needs, skills, and competencies they require to be successful.  This continues to be the case and continues to be a discussion in education today.  When a teacher is asked to justify a project or assignment taking place in his/her classroom, the teacher is required to connect it to curriculum outcomes, which are determined by the “leaders” in education, ie. the government.  These outcomes are intended to include everything students need to know in order to maintain successful careers in adulthood.  Teachers do not have the freedom to create a ‘lived’ or fluid curriculum where they allow for student growth and exploration based on individual interests, desires, and needs, rather than the factory protocol.  Decisions are made at the top of the hierarchy and they then trickle down to the orderly minions below.  Teachers are bound to teach what they are told and failure to do so results in consequences for the teacher, regardless of how beneficial it may be for the students involved.  So many learning opportunities are missed or left out because they do not fit into the structure that has been imposed upon a system intended to teach all children.


There are of course exceptions to this model.  There are teachers who continue to stand up and push the boundaries to include learning opportunities regardless of whether they fit nicely into the curricular box they are expected to use.  These teachers provide opportunities for student growth and development and push to provide students with experiences where they may be exposed to opportunities that are pushing the limit of curricular outcomes.  In order for this to happen, there  needs to be some support and the hierarchical structure within the school setting needs to provide trust.  Both the administration and the teacher need to have a mutual understanding about what is best for the students and the impact of working outside the box.  We, as educators, need to remember we are not only working to provide our students with skills to be successful in their future endeavors, but we are also planting seeds to allow for students to grow.  By nurturing those seeds and providing some freedom to expand students are given the opportunity to grow beyond the skills prescribed by those at the top of the hierarchy.  It is through expanding those curricular boundaries that teachers are pushing beyond the factory model imposed upon them for over a century.

Teaching is such a personal experience and having the powers from above dictating what should be taught, how it should be taught, and when it should be taught takes the individuality out of the experience.  Learning is not prescriptive, but rather should exist organically when someone is interested, curious, or engaged in a subject area.  Teaching has become somewhat stagnant where teachers are simply teaching from published guides that were written by people who have never been in a classroom or worked with children before.  Teachers need to stand-up for education and take teaching into their own hands.  Teachers need to begin facilitating the learning process for the individuals in their classroom.  When this happens a weird thing occurs within the classroom setting; students begin to take on leadership roles and sometimes even teach the teacher a thing or two!

Here is an interesting article about what happens when students begin teaching in the classroom.  When students take on this kind of leadership in the classroom, not only are they more engaged, but they also take on some ownership and responsibility in not only their learning but the learning experience of their peers.  Talk about flipping the power structures within education by the waist-side!

I would love to hear from you. What has been some of your experiences regarding students teaching within your classrooms?  How have you seen the role of the teacher changed from “teacher of knowledge” toward more of a “facilitator of learning”? Have you noticed a power shift within education, or do you think teachers are becoming more focussed on this factory model?

Posted January 20, 2019 by jenresch in category EDL 820

5 thoughts on “Unit 1 – Critical Theory

  1. Matt Bresciani

    Hi Jen,

    This was an awesome post! I completely agree with the sentiment in your first paragraph. The notion of “simply preparing children for adulthood with the future needs” is something that I can unfortunately relate to as a Grade 8 teacher. From my first day of teaching, something I’ve heard time and time again is that my primary role is to “prepare my students for High School”. For a long time I really bought into this notion, and it definitely affected the overall quality of my teaching, and the experiences for my students. I honestly don’t think I became an effective teacher until I realized that I needed to stop fixating on the future, and live in the present.

    I also found myself agreeing with you when you wrote: “Teachers need to begin facilitating the learning process for the individuals in their classroom.” – This is exactly why I’m so passionate about Genius Hour. Allowing students to have a choice in their learning not only makes them responsible for it, but allows them to feel like a partner in their education rather than a spectator. The fact that students get the opportunity to teach the class about their learning journey, not only engages them further, but allows our entire learning community to join them for the ride.

    Thanks for the great read!


  2. Carla Cooper

    Hi Jen!

    Thank you for reminding me of Bobbitt! He really did have a specific ideology of what education would look like. I too find myself hearing other high school teachers saying to their students (and I am guilty of this too) that we are trying to get them ready for post-secondary education. But not all of our students will attend school after high school, so shouldn’t we be getting them ready for life? I really get the feeling that you are very dissuaded from the curriculum and those working for the Ministry of Education. I have a bit of an inside experience as I have been a writer for the MOE. Please know that the curriculums are now being written by teachers who are currently practicing teachers, they have been reviewed by practicing teachers and piloted by practicing teachers. The curriculum has gone through too many revisions to count as suggested by teachers before the final publishing. I can only speak to the science curriculum, but know that the PAA curriculums are being written in this manner too. Please have patience with the curriculum as I have the feeling that all of the curricula will now be written in this manner. We really tried to give teachers and students choice and voice in our curriculum. Remember that all curriculum is evergreen and living, you can add or remove indicators (it is not a checklist) as long as you are supporting the outcome or big idea of your courses. This is not a square peg, round hole scenario as we know there is no one size fits all, we are trying to give educators a voice for what works in their rooms.

    1. Stephen Wihak

      Thanks Carla! It does my heart good to hear from someone intimate with the process, that this is what is going on in Saskatchewan’s curriculum development world: “Remember that all curriculum is evergreen and living, you can add or remove indicators (it is not a checklist) as long as you are supporting the outcome or big idea of your courses. This is not a square peg, round hole scenario as we know there is no one size fits all, we are trying to give educators a voice for what works in their rooms.”

  3. Stephen Wihak

    Thanks, Jen for sharing with the class, the nightmare scenario of Franklin John Bobbitt, and his “Social Efficiency” model for education, which treated students literally as human robots in the making: “The procedures for curriculum planning, which Bobbitt referred to as job analysis, were adapted from Taylor’s work and began with the identification of the specific activities that adults undertook in fulfilling their various occupational, citizenship, family, and other social roles.” It is the legacy of this factory model of schools that critical leaders need to lead the fight against, starting with the kinds of creative approaches you so beautifully describe here. Thank you!

  4. Kim Gisi

    I really think your “minions” analogy hits the nail on the head. I do find that teachers are often bound by curriculum and do as you said, miss learning opportunities. Our division is crunching data numbers relating to math and science…I think this will bring about change. What we are doing is not working and there are needs that are not being met. Whether it is top down or not, the kids are lacking and change is warranted. Hopefully enough teachers and administrators will make internal changes to address student needs and not wait for curriculum change…that takes too long.


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