Curriculum and capabilities: looking for meeting spaces

Angulo Rasco, Felix; Redon Pantoja, Silvia (2019). 'Curriculum and capabilities: looking for meeting spaces' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA 2019, London, UK.


One of the most notable events of recent decades in the field of curriculum has been, curiously, its disappearance as a field of knowledge, debate and creation (Sahlberg, 2012, Graham, 2013). If we go back to the seventies of the last century (Angle 2016a), we find until the end of the 90s a field of enormous intellectual development. Field that developed in two directions, both essential (Angulo, 1994): one did in the debate on the cultural value of curricular knowledge (Stenhouse, 1967); in other words, about the culture that future generations would acquire. Another, on curriculum development or curricular projects and programs. The first track collected what Stenhouse always emphasized: "Education must generate and transmit culture which is relevant to the lives of the majority, and today most of our schools fail to do this" (Stenhouse, 967: 12) Authors like Kliebard ( 1986), Apple (1979, 1993), Hamilton (1990), Lundgren (1992), Torres (1991, 2011), Jackson (1992a, 1992b) and, especially, Gimeno Sacristán (1988, 1992, 1994, 1995, 2011) they have shown us the intellectual and epistemological richness that underlies the curriculum as a cultural representative (Angulo, 2014, 2016b). This debate, which remains confined to academic circles (Pinar, 2003, 2006), or marginally sustained in multicultural contexts (Steinberg, 2001, 2009, Banks 2009), as, for example, through the Funds of Knowledge (Moll et al. al., 1992, González & Moll 2002, Moje et al., 2004, González et al., 2005, Hogg, 2011, Rodríguez, 2013), has been systematically excluded in the political sphere, in the policy action and in the administrations educational. Instead of entering into the analysis and value of cultural knowledge -with the exception of Young (2008, 2014), "soft" forms have been accepted, such as the idea of competencies (Gimeno Sacristán, 2008, Angulo 2009, Angulo & Redon 2011 ) or merely, in the shadow of the exponential growth of control and test systems in schools and educational systems, has been reduced to what Christian Laval (2004) has called Cultural Kits.

The other way of the curricular field, moved towards the development of the curriculum. The pioneering writings on Curriculum of Bobbit (1918, 1924) and Beauchamp (1981, 1982), to put a pair of examples, centered their ideas and proposals in the rationality of the curricular action, that is as much as to affirm in the design of the curriculum, in the form that it has to adopt in the classroom and in the school. Pressed the field initially by Taylorism, by theories of instruction and by the movement of teaching by objectives, the design of the curriculum was also reduced to mere technology of the curriculum or to the application of taxonomies, especially those of Bloom (Gimeno Sacristán, 1982; Angulo, 1991). However, it was in the decade of the seventies, when in the Anglo-Saxon world emerged from the hand of authors like Jerome Brunner and Lawrence Stenhouse the need to carry out curricular projects; that is, to develop novel frameworks with which to show new forms of knowledge and new ways of teaching it. As basic examples we have the Man: a Course of Studies and the Humanities Curriculum Project (Brunner, 1988, Stenhouse, 1968, 1970, 1984, Torres 1994, Angulo, 1989b). This trend has also disappeared, almost parallel to the debate on cultural content and for practically the same reasons. The administrative centralization of national curricula, together with the extension of the movement by competences and, above all, the adoption by many educational systems of standardized tests, has made innovation and curricular creativity unnecessary. What is the point of creating new possibilities for curricular action in the classroom, when the results / objectives are established administratively and when the students have to undergo standardized tests? What is unfortunate in this case is that, as pointed out by Stenhouse (1983, 1987) and Elliott (1990), a curricular project is an area of teacher professional development as a professional, the current situation of achieving predetermined objectives and increasing performance, it has become a mere technical process (Angulo 1989, Zeichner 1993, 2010, Zeichner & Liston 2013, Zeichner, Payne & Brayko 2015). These two ways that we have just mentioned have been taken up and united in the new perspectives opened by Au (2012) and Paraskewa (2011). Especially Au, following the seminal ideas of J. Dewey (2002, 2016) and D. Huebner (Hillis, 1999). For Au (2012), the curriculum is a problem of complex environmental design, which implies the powerful recognition of the structure of the educational environment around the learner has implications for the acquisition of knowledge by the learner and it is to this extent that the curriculum can be conceived as a tool that structures the accessibility of knowledge in enviromental form. It is precisely here where we can connect curriclum and the capabilities approach (Sen, 2000, 2010, Nussbaum 2006, 2011, Nussbaum & Sen, 1996, Walker, 2006, Walker & Unterhalter, 2007). Capability is understood as each person is actually able to do and to be, according to an intuitive idea of life which relates to human being's dignity; In other words, the capabilities represent the freedom / s of a person to reach their wellbeing. As is emphasized by Sen (1999: 75) a capability is a potential functioning -what one actually manages to achieve or do, and a functioning is the various things a person may value doing or being, it is the practical realization of one's chosen way of life. Understood in this way, the capabilities represented the possibilities of self-fulfilment, of being, which are favored by the (social, political, economic) context. In this framework, the curriculum can be understood as the environment design to develop the functions of childrens in the school, i.e. their capabilities. Or focused in another way, the curriculum can be a key element for the professional development of teachers only if it is converted into a space for the deployment of students' capabilities.

scroll to top