Curriculum Development as a Subversive Activity?
Discourse and Ideology in the Evolution of Curriculum Policy in Ireland 1980-2005.
PhD thesis, National University of Ireland Maynooth.
This is a study of the evolution of curriculum policy and the discourses that have accompanied it. Three inter-related issues comprise the essential focus of the research: firstly, the manner in which curriculum discourse has evolved over the period in question, as the locus of activity has moved in a sequence of shifts from the periphery to the centre; secondly, the extent to which, at critical moments, national policy has responded in an ideological manner or otherwise to the discourse that has been generated at the margins; and thirdly, the extent to which the national curriculum policy that has emerged has adopted, reflected or facilitated the same range of neo-liberal orthodoxies that has been identified in the international literature on education policy.
A review of the literature addresses the contested role of qualitative research in education policy studies. A distinction is drawn between the processes of evaluation and critique. The thesis is conceived as an exercise in critique, adopting perspectives drawn from the contrasting positions of Habermas and Foucault, and shaped by the arts education sensibilities articulated by Eisner.
Two complementary research methods are adopted in the study. Firstly, critical discourse analysis is used as a lens through which landmark curriculum policy documents are analysed at three key moments in the period under review – the early to mid 1980s, the early to mid 1990s and the early to mid 2000s. Secondly an arts-based perspective, comprising an auto-ethnographic narrative approach that draws upon elements of the visual arts pedagogic encounter known as ‘the crit’, is utilised to capture the experience of the researcher in his role as an active agent in the process under review.
The growth and development of the discourses of change, of flexibility and of consultation are identified and examined. Three conclusions are drawn. Firstly, curriculum discourse was generated by forces at the margins of the education system. A central feature of the early curriculum development movement was the empowerment of the teacher. Curriculum discourse subsequently has signalled a sequence of shifts from the periphery to the centre. This has shaped the creation of policy, in the absence of any pre-existing coherent or rational curriculum policy principles. As each of these shifts occurred, a repositioning of the centre and periphery also occurred. Secondly, at critical moments, the discourse generated at the margins has been adopted at the centre, through a form of co-option or colonisation, but this rhetoric has not been realised in policy implementation. Thirdly, while the policy orientation of the centre has not been overtly ideological, nevertheless it has facilitated neo-liberal policy shifts. This has had the more generalised effect of not just neutralising the key agent in the system, the teacher, but of co-opting most other agents as complicit partners in this operative, if not intended, project of de-professionalising the teacher.
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