Curriculum and the Tyler Rationale

In our first ECS 210 lecture the question was asked “what is curriculum?” Even though all of us have experienced curriculum in our educational journeys many had trouble putting it into words. The class eventually settled on a definition along the lines of “a set of guidelines set out by the government that students should learn.” In the reading Curriculum theory and practice by Mark Smith curriculum is defined in several ways. It is defined by Stenhouse as, “the attempt to describe what happens in classrooms rather than what actually occurs” (Smith 2000) and by John Kerr as, ‘All the learning which is planned and guided by the school, whether it is carried on in groups or individually, inside or outside the school’ (quoted in kelly 1983). The reading Curriculum theory and practice goes over four ways of approaching curriculum theory and practice, one of which is the Tyler rationale. This approach is “[t]he dominant mode of describing and managing education” and is heavily linked to the success of the product” (Smith 2000). It’s a technical exercise where “[o]bjectives are set, a plan drawn up, then applied, and the outcomes (products) measured (Smith 2000).

In my own schooling I have had a lot of experience with the Tyler rationale, both good and bad. Many of the most memorable experiences occurred in elementary school where learning was fast paced and the efficiency of the teacher or curriculums success depended on the students performance. One area where the Tyler rationale’s set objectives and structured plans worked for me was learning to read. The skill came naturally to me. I hit all the objectives set out either early or just where I was expected to be and received the praise I was rewarded with confidently. I couldn’t understand why some of my other peers kept stumbling over their pronunciations and syntax. It never occurred to me that they could have a legitimate reading disability or just simply take a bit longer to learn. As I progressed into higher grade levels I began to encounter math skills that challenged me. I was simply not catching on to these skills as fast as my other peers. This had never happened to me before and I was confused and frustrated. The class was moving too fast for me and I was being left behind. In this way the conveyor belt system of the Tyler rationale failed me and I began to realize that learning is not  one size fits all as the Tyler rationale approach suggests.

It is obvious that the Tyler rationale has it limitations; the first being “the plan or program assumes great importance” (Smith 2000). This leaves students with no voice in their education and it can deskill educators. Educators are to apply the curriculum and are judged by the outcomes, effectively turning them into technicians. Secondly, “there are questions around the nature of objectives” (Smith 2000). The model is very dependent on measurability of the product but, there is always room for error when measuring. This is dangerous as it is often difficult to judge the impact of an experience. Thirdly, “there is a real problem when we come to examine what educators actually do in the classroom” (Smith 2000). Educators often have difficulties with meeting objectives, which points to something being inherently wrong with the approach. Lastly, “there is the problem of unanticipated results”(Smith 2000). All the focus on pre-specified goals causes both teachers and students to overlook learning that is not an objective but a product none-the-less.

Despite the Tyler rationales limitations it does have some benefits. The approach “is systematic and has considerable organizing power” (Smith 2000). This allows teachers the ability to methodically organize a fixed one size fits all plan and reuse these plans. Teachers also have the ability to easily pinpoint success and evaluate it as the desired outcomes are clearly noted. This approach also works well for students who are deemed to be “on the right track”. They are able to systematically learn the material presented and reap the rewards for their success.

Curriculum can be defined and approached in many different ways. The Tyler rationales systematic approach has both limitations and benefits. It is a convenient approach in terms of organization and for students who are performing within the levels of the objectives set out, but not so much for others. My own personal experience with it, as I’m sure is similar to others, has been both positive and negative. It is great for students who are able to meet the objectives the curriculum sets out but, leaves many students behind in doing so. Upon deeper analysis of my experience with the Tyler rationale I realized that it potentially has had lasting effects on my behavior. I would consider myself to be a box ticker and a “worrier”. I go through life wanting to meet all the targets I feel one should hit in order to be considered successful. For example, going to university, getting good grades, one day balancing a successful career with a husband and 2.5 children, etc. All these objectives are great but, when the success of these objectives is threatened (i.e. bad marks, tough deadlines, ect.) I feel anxious about failing or not meeting the same status quo of my peers. Not to mention it leaves me with little regard for things I would rather be doing (i.e. travelling!). Though this is hypothetical it’s undeniable that theirs links to this behavior and the conveyor belt like system of the Tyler rationale I experienced so often during my youth. Due to this, combined with the approaches other limitations I would say this approach to curriculum needs to be seriously revised or left in the past.

Smith, M. K. (1996, 2000) ‘Curriculum theory and practice’ the encyclopaedia of informal

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