A case study of curriculum controversy: the Virginia Standards of Learning for history and the social sciences
Fore, Linda Compton
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Curriculum-making is a political exercise in which various groups in a society struggle over whose knowledge and values will be perpetuated through the school curriculum. As such, curriculum-making sometimes creates controversy. Controversy often accompanies the development of social studies curriculum because the purpose of social studies education is the preparation of the young for citizenship. Individuals disagree over what characteristics define the good citizen, as well as what knowledge and skills are necessary for effective citizenship. This study examines the political dimensions of social studies curriculum making in the controversy surrounding the development of the Virginia Standards of Learning for History and the Social Sciences. Using historical and qualitative methodology, the researcher collected and analyzed data from public documents, meetings of the Virginia Board of Education and its Advisory and Editing Committees, news articles, and transcripts from semi-structured interviews with eight key participants in the development of the social studies Standards of Learning. Analyses of these data sources showed that two primary groups struggled over control of the process of developing the standards, Governor Allen's education team and the professional social studies community under the leadership of the Virginia Consortium of Social Studies Specialists and College Educators. A third important force in the debate was the Virginia Board of Education, from which a small group of its members authored the final standards document. Further, this study showed two contextual influences on the Virginia social studies standards. The first was the Reagan rhetoric on academic crisis and educational reform through the establishment of tougher academic standards based on the traditional curriculum. The second was the recent controversy in Virginia over outcomes-based education. These two contextual influences combined to create a distrust of professional expertise. Three reciprocally related themes emerged from the data. Participants used power, rhetoric, and ideology to define the boundaries of the debate, control the process, name who could participate, and determine the outcome of the development process. Disagreements between the two major sides in the debate involved ideological differences over the nature of knowledge and learning and the nature of social studies education. There were also ideological differences among major participants over social issues like civil rights, gender issues, religion, and religious conflicts.
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