Change Processes and Historical Periods

An International Perspective

Most recent school restructuring initiatives have combined a series of features. They have adopted a posture of ‘optimistic newness’: an amnesia which focuses on the spontaneous creation of solutions, of new ‘change forces’. Above all, they have shown an almost wilful disregard of previous change efforts and of the embedded contexts and frames of schooling which are historically sedimented.

In some ways, it may be sensible to view ‘change’ and ‘reform’ as themselves aspects of culture. They represent, in a sense, cultures of disavowal and denial. They wish for the ‘end of history’, and proclaim that end by denying the forces of history: ‘change forces’, not ‘historical forces’; new standards, not old human agency.
A good example of such a proclamation of newness was the British National Curriculum, announced as a major new initiative of a triumphalist Thatcher government in 1987. Educational theorists often uncritically accepted this ideology of newness. Much of the curriculum theory at the time adopted the ‘new’ triumphalist tone and sought to construct new ‘guides’ as to how to ‘implement’ this new panacea. It was thought ‘inappropriate’ to provide a more analytical and historical approach. The work of Bob Moon is a classic example of such ‘implementationist myopia’. I warned at the time:

As the study of the National Curriculum confirms it is easy to be beguiled by the frantic activity in the foreground. To be drawn into the contemporary foreground is to run the danger of ignoring the continuities in the background. Being drawn into the frenetic foreground curriculum study and curriculum theory can forego much of their potential to provide independent scholarship. (Goodson, 1995, preface, p. xvii)

In fact, the National Curriculum produced a wide range of problems, from teacher discontentment, through to a debilitating narrowing of curriculum opportunities and growing student disaffection. The Government is now trying to loosen the hold of the National Curriculum and develop again broader curriculum opportunities to try to reverse teacher and student disaffection. As the fate of the National Curriculum (and indeed British Mad Cow Disease) confirmed, independent scholarship does not equal left wing ‘carping criticism’. It is what it pronounces: ‘independent scholarship’, providing analytical advice that might save huge sums of money being wasted on ill-conceived and under-prepared new initiatives. Governments would do well to retain independent advisory forces in the face of the global spin-doctors they will increasingly confront. Educational changes of course are subject to similar global forces. When change theorists adopt only the foreground of contemporary implementation they ignore the continuities in the background.

As we shall find, history does not ‘end’ and change forces will, in the end, have to negotiate with other historical forces. It would be better to begin that negotiation from the earliest stages in defining change theory, not leave it until the changes are themselves subverted and inverted in the melting pot of human actions.
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Publisher: The Liffey Press
Subject: Education policy
Available in: English
Appears in: Curriculum and Ideology - Irish Experiences International Perspectives (C. Segrue, ed.)
Number of editions: 1

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