“Who has the Voice? Who has the Power?” by Laura McArthur for EDU 6460 Curriculum, Culture, and Language

“Who has the Voice? Who has the Power?” by Laura  McArthur for EDU 6460 Curriculum, Culture, and Language

The Patriarchal Power in Curriculum Development

Chambers’ (1994) essay shares her experiences of living in small northern communities and in doing so outlines the patriarchal dominance of this geographic and temporal space. Her work after her marriage was largely characterized by domestic duties. This Patriarchal dominance of women in the household, according to Ng-A-Fook (2012), is evident in existing institutions. North American corporate leaders seek to reproduce this patriarchal power in order to exert control. “Teachers are placed under house arrest and submitted to the domesticated constraints of curricular corsets” (Ng-A-Fook, 2012, p. 173). Kanu & Glor (2006) maintain that all teachers, especially those who are critical thinkers, are expected to essentially do as they are told without questioning these expectations. Teachers are required to follow the expectations of a curriculum that has been handed down to them from the government. In this situation, the political rhetoric of accountability functions as a form of control, to ensure that the governmental regime of truths is being met.  In turn, standardized testing works to support this discursive regime.  My school has often not met these ‘standards’ and has therefore been ranked lower than many other schools. These tests ignore the challenges that many of our students have to face in a rural, low socioeconomic area which includes poverty, hunger, and lack of parental support in their academic achievements.  I would argue that evaluations are another form of this power and control.  Evaluations are a checklist of criteria indicating the manner in which a teacher is supposed to behave and conduct themselves in the classroom.  Much like the curriculum, this checklist is created by those in more powerful positions and mandated to those beneath them.   They are a form of corset.  All of these examples are a reflection of a dominant power that is exerted and imposed from the top-down and generally from a male controlled arena.  Looking to the future, Kanu & Glor (2006) state that many teachers who are in the system may be reluctant to tackle the commonly accepted norms for a variety of reasons.  Some examples are a fear of change and a shift in the power struggle.  Pre-service teachers may be the best option to become ‘amateur intellectuals’ and challenge mainstream political and social trends.  They have yet to be heavily influenced by the system and can thus be moulded beforehand to think like ‘amateur intellectuals’.  Unfortunately, despite whether one is a veteran teacher or pre-service teacher, we may be battling a force too powerful and may deem any efforts futile.

Curriculum material is another indicator of a patriarchal domination in the field of education.  Chambers’ (1994) narrative outlines that her experience in the northern Canadian education system in the 1950’s was one in which “The school routines were preoccupied with disease and cleanliness” (p. 40).  She elaborates that “Miss Thomas was the schoolteacher, a missionary for southern standards of cleanliness and order in a wild and dirty northern world” (p. 40).  As such, the curriculum was an attempt to nurture First Nations and Métis to conform to the norms of a predominantly white, southern Canadian society.  Often a curriculum is based on the political, social, and economic needs of the time. In Chambers’ narrative, it seems that there was an effort to make First Nations people more obedient and to prepare them for a career in labour. There were many political and economic projects in the north at the time that required a labour force.  The goal was to teach them to conform to what they were being asked to do rather than foster a society of creative thinkers.  Kanu & Glor (2006) refer to this as the paradox of teaching in a knowledge society.  They maintain that the current curriculum is “derailing the very creativity, ingenuity, and flexibility that schools are supposed to cultivate” (p. 102).  My experience in working with First Nations students in a low socioeconomic area indicates that the past is still alive and well today.  If the curriculum was reflective of the needs of our First Nation’s people, rather than the political, economic, and social desires of the nation or province, the dropout/failure rates could perhaps decline.  There have been few efforts to both fund and accommodate the learning challenges and the curricular material that impedes First Nations students from being successful. These challenges include but are not limited to poverty, substance abuse, and a lack of academic support or encouragement at home.  Any strategies offered to combat these issues tend to be purely pedagogical.  I have attended several workshops where the ideas presented included ideas such as arranging the students in a circle rather than in rows.  The government will always base the curriculum on the political, social, and economic needs of this nation.  This is a reality that we will be unable to avoid.  We can, however, ensure a more democratic voice in creating this curriculum in an effort to address the needs of the communities and the children for whom the curriculum is intended (Chambers, 1999).

Conflicting Narratives and Identities

Chambers (1994) discusses the conflicts of cultural and ethnic identities and a lack of belonging in her autobiographical narrative.  Despite being a white girl growing up in a small community made up largely of First Nations people, Chambers was living as a neighbour amongst them.  Many of the white communities of the north were often living separate in a more affluent community.  This was a luxury that Chambers did not enjoy.  Perhaps this was due to her mother’s social status as an uneducated and divorced single mother.  As such, Chambers developed a hybrid identity or what Kanu (2002) calls a third space.  Kanu describes the third space as “the place for the construction of identities that are neither one nor the other” (p. 77).  This conflict of identity is likely evident for many students in our current system of education.  I can use my own life experiences to outline this conflict.  I am an urban woman born to an English speaking, upper middle class family of Scottish immigrants.  I now live and work in a rural, low socioeconomic, French and Algonquin speaking community.  I have experienced a shift in identity as a result of these various influences.  In rural French culture, domestic duties tend to be the responsibility of a woman.  This cultural expectation is another role that I must undertake in addition to my career as a teacher.  I do not speak the French or Algonquin languages fluently, nor am I familiar with life in a small town.  I have had to adjust to a new life and in doing so, I have had to give up a bit of my old identity.  I have created an identity that does not entirely mimick the realities of my new environment but is rather a melange of both identities, old and new.  Many First Nations and immigrant students may be undergoing this conflict of identity as well.  These students are required to perform within the confines of a highly westernized classroom and to perform Canadian mandated curricular content.  This often occurs since the student cannot relate to the English or French language, the corresponding culture, the western pedagogical practices, and the academic content.  As such, many students may create a hybrid identity or third identity in the current Canadian education context.

Chambers (1994) also talked of a desire to belong.  She mentions that this belonging will only come through writing.  I like to believe that this makes reference to the power of narrative research methodology.  This further acknowledges the need for a curriculum that reflects the voice and needs of those who are intended to use it.


  • What are some of your experiences with the educational institution that has affected your thoughts or practice?
  • Do you believe that change can take place?  Or is the battle too great when one is working against widely accepted practices and processes of our education system?
  • Do you agree with the patriarchal dominance in curriculum and/or the education institutions more generally?
  • What do you think about hybrid identities or third spaces? Is the creation of a hybrid identity harmful to a student or is it natural and expected?  Have we only ever experienced hybrid identities or third spaces (Ng-A-Fook, Radford, & Ausman, 2012)? Could efforts of a more democratic approach to curriculum development eliminate the need of a hybrid identity?


Chambers, C. (1994). Looking for home: Work in progress. A Journal of Women Studies, 15. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org.proxy.bib.uottawa.ca/stable/pdfplus/3346760.pdf

Chambers, C. (1999). A topography for Canadian curriculum theory.  Canadian Journal of Education24. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org.proxy.bib.uottawa.ca/stable/pdfplus/1585924.pdf?acceptTC=true

Kanu, Y. (2003). Curriculum as cultural practice: Postcolonial imagination. Journal of the Canadian Association for Curriculum Studies,1. Retrieved from https://pi.library.yorku.ca/ojs/index.php/jcacs/article/viewFile/16851/15657

Kanu, Y. & Glor, M. (2006). ‘Currere’ to the rescue? Teachers as ‘amateur intellectuals’ in a knowledge society. Journal of the Canadian Association for Curriculum Studies, 4. Retrieved from https://pi.library.yorku.ca/ojs/index.php/jcacs/article/viewPDFInterstitial/17007/15809

Ng-A-Fook, N. (2012). Navigating m/other-son plots as a migrant act: Autobiography, currere, and gender. In Springgay, S. & Freedman, D. (Eds.).  Mothering a bodies curriculum: Emplacement, desire, affect, pp. 160-185).  Toronto, Ontario: University of Toronto Press.

Ng-A-Fook, N. & Radford, L. & Ausman, T. (2012, October). Living a curriculum of hyph-e-nations: Diversity, equity, and social media. Multicultural Educational Review, 4(2), pp. 91-128.