“The ends perceived are not so much ends as beginnings; they represent ends-in-view, or beacons, which act as guides before the curriculum implementation process begins. But once the course develops its own ethos these ends are themselves part of the transformation; they, too, along with the students, the teacher, the course material, undergo transformation. (Doll, 1989, p. 250).
The desired outcomes or objectives of a learning experience will not remain static. They, like all of the other actors in the educational experience, will be transformed through the activities of the curricular process. Because of this, they can be viewed as the starting place for framing educational activity or to inform curricular planning decisions, but a causal relationship between certain educational activities and the stated or desired ‘ends’ cannot be guaranteed.
The implications of post-modernism on education are clearly reflected in this quote. According to Doll, education viewed through a post-modernist lens is an open system that allows for a high level of complexity and has the potential for transformative change. To illustrate the dichotomy between modernist and post-modernist thinking, Doll draws upon two scientific paradigms. He uses the Newtonian paradigm of stable systems as an analogy for modernist education and contrasts this with Prigogine’s work on dissipative or far-from-equilibrium systems.
Doll posits that curriculum that parallels the Newtonian system is “reductionist, assume[s] the whole to be no more than the sum of the parts, and lead[s] to a curriculum which is cumulative rather than transformative.” (Doll, 1989, p. 244). This is akin to the banking model of education criticized by Freire in Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Doll echoes Freire’s argument that this model of education is necrophilic, stating that it leads to “death by entropy” (1989, p. 245).
A post-modernist approach to education, however, results in a living system characterised by transformative rather than controlled and incremental change. Doll illustrates this perspective by drawing on Prigogine’s works on unstable structures and describing how in a complex system, all actors are active participants in the activities occurring within the system. Each of these actors brings to the system their own beliefs and experiences, which impacts how they interact with others within the system. In particular, knowledge and the formation of knowledge is directly impacted by individual actors and their subjectivity. Complexity, thus, has a negative correlation to predictability in that the more complex a system is the more difficult it is to predict how each interacting force will impact the system and the resulting outcomes, or ends, of the system.
The reason that this article, and this quote in particular, intrigued me was because it highlights the nature of curriculum as a complex and unpredictable living system that is highly dependent on the individual participants, human and non-human, in the process of curriculum. The importance of every participant’s unique perspective results in “a sense of indecision and indeterminacy to curriculum planning” (Doll, 1989, p. 250), which often is ignored in more modernist approaches to curriculum development as an inconvenient anomaly, or, in Doll’s own words, treated as “noise” which is “quickly and quietly factored out” (1989, p. 246). Instead, by embracing a post-modernist approach, these additional factors can be made more visible in the curriculum development process.
Understanding education as an open, complex and transformative system also brings into question the viability of outcomes-based education. Outcomes-based education is often developed through a linear backwards design, where first the desired outcomes are determined then the learning activities that should lead students to those outcomes are developed. Again, this model doesn’t necessarily leave room for the unpredictability of an open and complex educational system.
Doll, W.E. (1989) “Foundations for a Postmodern Curriculum.” Journal of Curriculum Studies, v21 n3 p243-53.
Freire, P. (2000). Pedagogy of the oppressed / Paulo Freire ; translated by Myra Bergman Ramos ; with an introduction by Donald Macedo. (30th anniversary ed.). Continuum.