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The Curriculum Controversies of the 1950s, Essay Example

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The political climate of the 1950s, along with the influence of institutes of higher education,  played a role in the curricular debates discussed in Chapter Four.  Those who supported the progressive approach tended to oppose an educational environment in which teachers dominated the classroom and centred their instruction on key textbooks.  Instead, they believed that children should be the focal point of all classroom activities and that their needs should guide the curriculum.  Progressives saw teachers as “directors of research and inquiry, who establish a classroom environment conducive to children’s growth and development” (Gutek, 2000, p. 64).  In contrast, the essentialist approach emphasized education as a tool for promoting social change by passing human knowledge from adults to children.  The essentialists believed that a logically ordered, sequential curriculum that focused on discipline would provide children with the skills necessary to both master their lessons and develop an interest in the world around them.  Essentialists argued that not all subjects were equal; “some were more important than others because they led to matters of permanent concern” (Gutek, 2000, p. 66).  Life adjustment education is aimed at meeting the needs of a majority of students through the use of a curriculum that emphasizes student-needs and practical skills over traditional book-based curriculum.

It is useful to understand the history of American education because these different styles of curriculum have shaped our understanding of education today.  Additionally, educators can learn from the successes and failures of these curriculum when developing their own educational approach.  The modern approach to curriculum shares many similarities with the progressive approach to education because the individual needs of each students remains a primary focus.

 References

Gutek, G.L. (2000). American education, 1945-2000:  A history and commentary. Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press.

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