Dwayne E. Huebner – The Tasks of the Curricular Theorist A Reader Response by Justine Sousa

Dwayne E. Huebner – The Tasks of the Curricular Theorist A Reader Response by Justine Sousa

I sit at my desk staring out the window. The greyness of the sky and the drizzle that falls from the clouds makes me thankful that I opted to stay indoors today. The brightness of my computer screen refocuses my attention as I attempt to write about curricular theorists and their tasks. While the article is 35 years old, somehow it still remains relevant today in relation to the realm of curriculum theory. For as much as educative environments have evolved over time, they have hauntingly remained the same.

In Huebner’s (1975) The Tasks of the Curricular Theorist, the author discusses the three activities related to the study of curriculum: language, practice and research. As a non-practicing educator, I have not experienced the practical side of curriculum. Nor am I involved in empirical research within this field. I nonetheless, “talk and write about curriculum…using the language of others” (Huebner, 1975, p. 213). Although language, practice and research are interrelated, Huebner believes that true merit is derived from “untangle[ing] the relationship among these three activities” (Huebner, 1975, p. 213). These activities can never be fully separated, however, as they are co-dependent in order to fully comprehend and discuss matters of curriculum. By appreciating each activity separately, one can come to understand their interconnections in a more meaningful way.

Language is a starting point from which to understand the realm of curriculum theory and the role of the curricular theorist. “Many curricularists,” Huebner (1975) suggests, “are flies caught in the web of someone else’s language” (p. 214). Such discursive entrapment speaks to the challenges experienced by teachers in negotiating the space between “curriculum-as-plan and curriculum-as-live(d)” (Aoki, 2000, p. 322). My experiences studying alongside teachers in this program has made me sensitive to their struggles with developing and delivering curriculum, or dealing with standardized testing. Nonetheless, I have never felt the pressure associated with delivering mandated curriculum to a class full of students. When I think of curriculum, I think of my lived curriculum, my currere, understanding it as “a complicated conversation with self and others” (Pinar & Grumet, 1976, Pinar, 2000). My daily lived experiences push me to “live in the spaces of between,” a space Aoki would describe as “a site of both difficulty and ambiguity and also a site of generative possibilities and hope” (Aoki, 2000, p. 322). Such experiences contribute to my learning, as do the people I encounter from the moment I leave my apartment to the moment I return.

There is however one pressing curricular item currently on my mind: my curriculum vitae. I am in the process of updating my CV, as I plan to apply for employment upon my completion of the M.Ed program in December. A few days ago I decided to have my résumé critiqued at Career Services. While my CV lists my professional accomplishments and my volunteer history, it in no way accurately conveys the amount of learning and challenges I have faced with each listed entry. Upon examining the language used in my CV, I notice many connections to the different categories of language that Huebner describes in the realm of curriculum.

While my résumé is intended to provide potential employers with an idea of who I am and what I have accomplished, it in no way presents an accurate understanding of my life experiences or “the course of [my] life” (Harper Collins, 2002). The pre-approved action verbs that decorate my CV provide a superficial description of my accomplishments. Huebner (1975) reminds us that, “descriptive language permits one to skate linguistically over the surface of events and phenomena” (p. 215). There is no room for explanatory language, as potential employers have no desire to “dig below the surface” and see how you arrived at each position or what you learned from volunteering. The CV expert suggested that I remove my volunteer work at the Sheppard Lodge Nursing Home, as employers have no desire to know about this experience. The time that I spent visiting residents on Saturday mornings was some of the most formative lessons of my life. I learned about the value of life, compassion and the sharing of life narratives. I was told stories of war, loss and history. I was experiencing a living curriculum through the narratives of residents, yet this curriculum has no merit to potential employers. Employers are merely interested in my accomplishment of objectives using a “means to ends rationality,” drawing upon Huebner’s technical value system (1966, p. 106). Similarly, the political value system is also at play in my CV, as employers place more importance on prestigious experience garnering accolades than on fulfilling work (Huebner, 1966). Rather than framing my CV through the ethical value system, where meaningful encounters are “the essence of life,” technical and political values take precedence (Huebner, 1966, p. 110).

While descriptive language is prevalent throughout my résumé, legitimating language also plays a role in proving that I am worthy to be offered a job. According to Huebner, “language used to legitimate is addressed to someone who is in a position to judge professional adequacy and competency,” (1975, p. 216). Through the language in my CV and cover letter, I am rationalizing my actions and reassuring potential employers that I am the right person for the job. In addition to legitimating language, the use of affiliative language throughout my curriculum vitae also serves the purpose of demonstrating my belonging in the business environment. Affiliative language is a “vehicle and token of cohesion,” which can serve to prove your inclusion in a particular community, while excluding you from others (Huebner, 1975, p. 217).

Upon perusing the volunteer section of my curriculum vitae, I was told to remove my involvement as a Sunday school teacher at my parish. “It is best to leave religious affiliations of any kind off your curriculum vitae” he explained. “The boy who came in before you volunteered at his mosque, so he had to remove that as well. I mean, this is Canada, after all.” While I understand that indirectly claiming affiliation to a particular religion runs the risk of inviting discrimination, is this a reason to mask our accomplishments? While discrimination on the basis of race, religion, culture and gender is indeed a part of our Canadian historical narratives, I fail to understand why we must continue to accept it as an inevitability, rather than being outraged that it remains part of our Canadian present.

The action verbs and adjectives on my curriculum vitae have been specifically chosen from a résumé building list and my volunteer history is void of the activities that have shaped me into the person I am today. At what point does my curriculum vitae stop being mine and becomes the curriculum of someone else’s life? Similar to my plight with professional resume language, “the professional language of the curricularist often pulls him away from his own feelings and his own language, thus alienating him from his own biography,” (Huebner, 1975, p. 223). Language continues to determine our solutions and ideas as we continue to be stuck thinking about education in much the same way as it has been studied in the past. The Austrian philosopher Wittgenstein (1922) once said that “the limits of my language are the limits of my world” (p. 68). Perhaps the limited progress that has been made in the realm of curriculum theory is not so much an issue of developing theory, but instead requires the creation of a new language and way of thinking. As a result we can begin to challenge the tired definitions and instead create a new and unique language for understanding curriculum in order to truly appreciate the educative environment.

References

Aoki, T. (2000/2005). Language, Culture, and Curriculum. In William F. Pinar & Rita Irwin (Eds.). Curriculum in a New Key. Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers.

Harper Collins (2002). Collins Compact Dictionary. Glasgow: HarperCollins Publishers.

Huebner, D. (1966/1999). Curricular Language and Classroom Meanings. In Vikki Hillis (Ed.), The Lure of the Transcendent. Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers.

Huebner, D. (1974/1999). The Tasks of the Curricular Theorist. In Vikki Hillis (Ed.), The Lure of the Transcendent. Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers.

Pinar, W. F. & Grumet, M. (1976). Toward a Poor Curriculum. Dubuque, IA: Kendall/Hunt.

Pinar, W. F. (2000). Strange Fruit: Race, Sex, and an Autobiographics of Alterity. In Peter Trifonas (Ed.), Revolutionary Pedagogies: Cultural Politics Instituting Education, and the Discourse of Theory (p. 30-46). New York: Routledge.

Wittgenstein, L. (1922/2001). Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. (D. F. Pears & B. F. McGuinness, Eds.). London & New York: Routledge & Kegan Paul.