Constructivism, Curriculum reforms, and Neoliberalism: Lessons from the Spanish Curriculum Reform in the 1980s and 1990s
The strong ties between neoliberalism and education are well documented by now. The presence of terms such as privatization, choice, and value-added, for example, in our current education vocabulary is a testimony to these ties. The connections between neoliberalism, teachers’ practices, and curriculum, however, are much less evident and needs further analysis. This paper intends to expose some of the ways in which neoliberalism, pedagogy, and curriculum are closely interconnected. It explicitly identifies child-centered pedagogies as a tool in the process of neoliberalizing education worldwide. While the article does not contend with these pedagogies per se, it does argue that current curriculum reforms have uncritically embraced them and, by doing so, they have articulated a neoliberal understanding of the individual in education in many countries.
This argument will be developed by looking at the Spanish curriculum reform during the first Socialist administration in late 1980s and early 1990s when education was understood as a crucial instrument in the consolidation of the recently achieved democracy. Using postructuralist lens and applying a discourse analysis to this curriculum reform, this paper illustrates how this process not only did not deliver its democratic promises in terms of teaching practices but it actually advanced a conservative agenda to education. Foucault’s notion of “governmentality” and Foucauldian’s scholars understanding of neoliberalim as a political rationality are at the core of this analysis and serve to illustrate how the official phase of the curriculum reform in the 1990s redefined the learner according to the new neoliberal rationality dominating Spain’s economic transition into a more flexible market at the time. More specifically, this paper explains how constructivism, with its emphasis on how to teach in detriment to what or why to teach, defined the learner as, using Foucault’s term, an “enterprising self.” In this definition, learning no longer needs of a social context. Rather, it is understood as following the logic of the market according to which students would naturally learn by individually “profiting” from being exposed to a good curriculum. Just as in the new neoliberal rationality dominating Spain in the 1989s people were expected to work as enterprising selves pursuing their personal welfare through the market, regardless of what this entity may actually offer, the constructivist perspective that informed the official curriculum understood learning as an individual process in which the learner would naturally take advantage and “profit” from the curriculum.
Reflecting on this process of curriculum reform in Spain and on the way in which child-centered pedagogies have been worshiped as inherently democratic in many developing countries, this paper warns about the ideological conservative role that these pedagogies are playing around the world. The paper concludes with a call for child-centered pedagogies to serve the democratic ideals they claim to serve. It further suggests that to accomplish this task child-centered pedagogies need to subvert neoliberal practices they helped to articulate by helping us to expose the relations of power we engage in, intentionally or unintentionally, in our teaching practices and in the curriculum options we advocate for.
This paper is a theoretical analysis of the Spanish curriculum reform during the first Socialist administration in late 1980s and early 1990s. It uses a poststructuralist perspective and applies a discourse analysis by contextualizing this curriculum reform within the political, social, and economic discourses pervading the country at that time. This analysis is heavily grounded on political theorist such as Andrew Barry, Thomas Osborne & Nikolas Rose that further developed Foucault’s notion of governmentality to explain the discursive nature of the political and social changes, including the understanding of the individual, in liberal and neoliberal regimes. This paper takes this analysis into education and interrogates the discourses embraced by the curriculum reform, specifically, the notion of the individual that it promoted.
The paper concludes with a call for child-centered pedagogies to serve the democratic ideals they claim to serve. It further suggests that to accomplish this task child-centered pedagogies need to subvert neoliberal practices they helped to articulate by helping us to expose the relations of power we engage in, intentionally or unintentionally, in our teaching practices and in the curriculum options we advocate for.
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