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Journal of Technology Education Vol. 3 No. 2, Spring 1992
Social Reconstruction Curriculum
and Technology Education
Karen F. Zuga
. . . to shape the experiences of the young so that instead of reproducing current
habits, better habits shall be formed, and thus the future adult society be an
improvement on their own. (Dewey, 1916, p. 79)
In the first half of the century, during the depths of the Great Depression,
Progressive educators set out to reform education by calling for a social re-
construction curriculum orientation. In this paper I will explore social recon-
struction with regard to schools, curriculum, and technology education. In the
first half of the paper I will explore what was meant by social reconstruction,
the way in which it was implemented in experimental schools, and the legacy
of social reconstruction. In the second half of the paper I will discuss the role
of processes in technology education curriculum, provide ideas for organizing
a social reconstruction curriculum orientation in technology education, and list
examples of what a social reconstruction curriculum orientation in technology
education is not.
Social Reconstruction
In response to social conditions of the day, Progressive educators during
the early half of the century were advocating a restructuring of education in this
country. Many of the Progressives believed that, due to school practices,
schools and society were caught in a dualistic relationship which separated the
school from mainstream society and created an isolation of the schools. They
believed that what happened under the auspices of the schools was not real or
reflective of the problems in society (Bode, 1933; Counts, 1932; Cremin, 1977;
Dewey, 1916; Dewey and Childs, 1933). Furthermore, the Progressives argued
that the artificial environment of the schools was miseducative in that the youth
of the country were not prepared to see and understand the values and issues
which would confront them as they became adults (Dewey and Childs, 1933).
As a result of these beliefs, some Progressives proposed that the schools create
a new social order (Counts, 1932).
Karen Zuga is Associate Professor, Department of Educational Studies, The Ohio State University,
Columbus, OH.
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Journal of Technology Education Vol. 3 No. 2, Spring 1992
Definition
Creating a new environment in the schools, `reconstructing' the existing
environment, was the Progressive agenda, but how that was to be accomplished
was not universally agreed upon (Cremin, 1976). As with any other idea, a
range of opinions were held with Counts proffering, perhaps, the most radical
opinion. Counts (1932) envisioned a restructuring of American society and
economy as he said, `The times are literally crying for a new vision of Ameri-
can destiny. The teaching profession, or at least its progressive elements,
should eagerly grasp the opportunity which the fates have placed in their
hands.' (p. 50) Others were less radical in their suggestions for reform, but did
believe that social reconstruction was the central aim of a good education and
was necessary in schools, if not, society at large.
Citing that many members of society were far too concerned with indi-
vidual needs, that the fervent nationalism of the times inhibited international
cooperation, and that the economic depression was signalling problems with the
existing society and economic structure (Dewey and Childs, 1933) mainstream
Progressives believed that the schools could be structured in a new way, and,
in turn, encourage students as future citizens to reconstruct society. The focus
of mainstream Progressives was on the restructuring of schools; an effort which
many hoped would lead to eventual changes in society. For schools and stu-
dents, mainstream Progressive educators had several goals which included:
orienting students and helping them commit to the life in which they would
participate; helping students to develop intellectual, esthetic, or practical inter-
ests; setting up an environment which would lead to a deeper understanding
of a democratic way of life; and reconstructing the procedures of the school
through experimentalism (Hullfish, 1933). Mainstream Progressive educators
differed with Counts in that they saw a future for the existing democracy.
About the social reconstruction of the mainstream Progressives, Dewey and
Childs (1933) said:
Our continued democracy of life will depend upon our own power of character
and intelligence in using the resources at hand for a society which is not so much
planned as planning --- a society in which the constructive use of experimental
method is completely naturalized. In such a national life, society itself would
be a function of education, and the actual educative effect of all institutions
would be in harmony with the professed aims of the special educational insti-
tution. (Dewey and Childs, 1933, p. 65)
Interestingly, the Progressives based their interpretation of social recon-
struction in experimentalism, science, and technology. Experimentalism and
faith in science and technology are fundamental to the philosophy of pragma-
tism. As a leading pragmatic philosopher, Dewey conceived of pragmatism as
a uniquely American philosophy which dealt with the concepts of the
instrumentalism of technology and the experimentalism of science as inquiry
(Hickman, 1990; Smith, 1980). It is no wonder, then, that Dewey advocated
experimentation in schools for both the students via the curriculum and for
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Journal of Technology Education Vol. 3 No. 2, Spring 1992
administrators as they determined the structure of schools. Moreover, Dewey
and Childs (1933) spoke of the use of instrumentalism as a technology of edu-
cation which would influence society: `An identity, an equation, exists between
the urgent social need of the present and that of education. Society, in order
to solve its own problems and remedy its own ills, needs to employ science and
technology for social instead of merely private ends.' (p.64) Make no mistake
about it, though, the purpose of the use of science and technology was to be a
social purpose, not an individual purpose and not a business purpose. Individ-
ual and business values and actions were clearly criticized by the Progressives
who linked these values and actions to the evident ills within society during the
first half of the century (Bode, 1933; Counts, 1932; Dewey and Childs, 1933).
Implementation
A number of experimental or laboratory schools were set up during the
Progressive Era in education. It is from these schools that examples of what
social reconstruction would look like in education can be drawn. Bode (1933)
explains social reconstruction as a `continuous reconstruction of experience' (p.
19) in daily school practice with the following examples:
This reconstruction of experience, if it is to have any significance, must take the
form of actual living and doing. Consequently the school must be transformed
into a place where pupils go, not primarily to acquire knowledge, but to carry
on a way of life. That is, the school is to be regarded as, first of all, an ideal
community in which pupils get practice in cooperation, in self-government, and
in the application of intelligence to difficulties or problems as they may arise.
In such a community there is no antecedent compartmentalization of values.
There are a number of important points here about social reconstruction. Social
reconstruction involves active participation through `doing.' However, this is
not mindless drill, skill development, or even the completion of personally
chosen projects, because the Progressives clearly intended a social purpose to
all activity. They viewed the school as a community in which values and habits
useful in the greater community would be instilled through practice. This was
not to be an activity such as job training or skill development which fit students
into preconceived notions of what adults believed they should become. That
is why there was an emphasis on self-government by students and that is why
Bode (1933, pp. 19-20) continued: `Shopwork, for example, is not dominated
by the idea of personal profit, but becomes a medium for the expression of
esthetic values and social aims. The quest for knowledge is not ruled by the
standards of research, but is brought into immediate relation with human ends.
Judgements of conduct are not based upon abstract rules, but on considerations
of group welfare.' The message is clearly one of social purpose as the guiding
force for the reconstruction of experience within the school. Social purpose
also guided the selection of content and activities which formed the curriculum.
The social purpose is documented in an overview of the science and technology
curriculum at The Ohio State University Elementary School and Kindergarten
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Journal of Technology Education Vol. 3 No. 2, Spring 1992
in 1935: `In evaluating our results, we asked ourselves thoughtfully: `Does the
educational experience we are setting up provide for real participation by each
student in each of these functions of living?'' (Publications Committee, 1935,
p. 121) The curriculum of the laboratory school included a core of study about
the preparation of materials which was specified to take place in the science,
all of the arts, and the home economics laboratories. Industry, distribution, and
control were some of the topics to be studied in this core.
The Ohio State University laboratory school was organized about the
concept of social reconstruction and was often cited as an exemplar of social
reconstruction curriculum in action. The secondary school operated on the
same guiding principles. The effectiveness of the secondary program was
documented, uniquely, by the first graduating class who took it upon themselves
to write and publish a book about their perceptions of the social reconstruction
program they had followed (Class of 1938, 1938). In their extensive work the
students explained how they created their school environment with teachers
who served as friends and advisors. In the early years, much of the work that
was done under the auspices of industrial arts involved modifying their own
school environment by refurbishing the school building.
In the experimental schools of the Progressive Era social reconstruction
curriculum involved student self government, the evolution of a community
consciousness on the part of students, and group project work which focussed
on the school, local, national, and international communities.
The Legacy
Very little evidence of the social reconstruction curriculum remains to-
day. Vestiges of practices initiated in the experimental schools can be seen in
efforts to operate student councils, attempts to provide students some free
choice in projects, and endeavors to maintain school laboratories in technology
and consumer science education. What happened?
Dewey and Childs 1933 critique of the failure to adopt social recon-
struction educational practices during that era has an all too familiar ring today:
Why, even when the social concepts were retained in theory, were they treated
in a way which left them mainly only a nominal force, their transforming effect
on practice being evaded? Why were they so often used merely to justify and
to supply a terminology for traditional practices? The reason which lies on the
surface is that an abstract and formal conception of society was substituted for
the earlier formal concept of the individual. General ideas like the transmission
and critical remaking of social values, reconstruction of experience, receive ac-
ceptance in words, but are often merely plastered on to existing practices, being
used to provide a new vocabulary for old practices and a new means for justi-
fying them. (p. 33)
Essentially, Dewey and Childs are critiquing the failure to move from the ac-
ademic rationalist curriculum of the Greek tradition and the personal needs
curriculum of the Herbartian tradition. Educators are still struggling with these,
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Journal of Technology Education Vol. 3 No. 2, Spring 1992
and other curriculum orientations today. Technology education has not escaped
this struggle.
Cremin (1976 & 1977), with the benefit of hindsight offers an additional
explanation of the lack of implementation in schools of the Progressives' idea
of social reconstruction. He believes that Dewey failed to resolve the dualism
between the school and society that he fought to overcome because he failed
to account for the many institutions in society which provide education. Media,
family, church, and industry are just some of the institutions which provide
education that Cremin cites. Cremin argues that a contemporary conception
of schooling must account for the influence of these institutions and their modes
of education.
Phenomenologists and critical scientists provide other reasons for the lack
of enduring social reconstruction curriculum reform. Vandenberg (1971), in a
phenomenological analysis, views the reform efforts of the twentieth century
as a Hegelian dialectic in which social reconstruction was an alternative view
promulgated as a result of child-centered beliefs and was recombined with
life-adjustment ideas in the post World War II period. More recently, Gonzalez
(1982), critiquing from a Marxist perspective, charges that the Progressives
`never challenged the tenets of capitalist production' (p. 103).
These and many more interpretations can be offered in order to explain
the absence of social reconstruction curriculum today. Dewey and Childs
(1933), however, remain eerily accurate in their sense of educational ills both
in their time and today as they wrote:
Actually pupils have been protected from family, industry, business, as they
exist to-day. Just as schools have been led by actual conditions to be non-
sectarian in religion, and thus have been forced to evade important questions
about the bearings of contemporary science and historical knowledge upon tra-
ditional religious beliefs, so they have tended to become colorless, because [sic]
neutral, in most of the vital social issues of the day. The practical result is an
indiscriminate complacency about actual conditions. The evil goes much deeper
than the production of a split between theory and practice and the creating of a
corresponding unreality in theory. Our educational undertakings are left without
unified direction and without the ardor and enthusiasm that are generated when
educational activities are organically connected with dominant social purpose
and conviction. Lacking direction by definite social ideals, these undertakings
become the victim of special pressure groups, the subject of contending special
interests, the sport of passing intellectual fashions, the toys of dominant per-
sonalities who impress for a time their special opinions, the passive tools of
antiquated traditions. They supply students with technical instrumentalities for
realizing such purposes as outside conditions breed in them. They accomplish
little in forming the basic desires and purposes which determine social activities.
(pp. 34-35)
In other words, at best, schools are insulated from society and serve to preserve
the status quo and, at worst, schools are subject to the whims of fads and special
interest groups. If administrators and teachers do not take a stand on the issues,
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Journal of Technology Education Vol. 3 No. 2, Spring 1992
students will not be able to take a stand. We, as educators have not taken a
stand. As technology educators most of us promote a sterile conception of a
discipline based subject matter, rather than grappling with the many social is-
sues and problems which result from our use (as a society) of technology.
Creating a Social Reconstruction Curriculum
for Technology Education
Technology educators have relied upon technical processes as a means
of generating curriculum content. This is true for traditional programs as well
as contemporary programs. Teaching about technical processes is essential in
a `hands on' program. A social reconstruction curriculum orientation would
be `hands on.' It is the way in which the technical processes are organized that
distinguishes the curriculum orientation. In this section I will discuss the
prominent role of technical processes in technology education curriculum, ex-
amples of a social reconstruction orientation in technology education, and what
is not a social reconstruction curriculum orientation in technology education.
Processes as Traditional Curriculum Content
There are many ways in which to identify and define appropriate content
for technology education. To this time, technology educators have concentrated
primarily on categorizing processes either via the traditional content of indus-
trial arts or through contemporary proposals for industrial technology education
and technology education. For example, industrial arts educators started with
a material such as wood or a process such as drawing and using a form of task
analysis categorized the processes students needed to know in order to trans-
form the material or create an acceptable drawing (Silvius & Bohn, 1976;
Silvius & Curry, 1967; Wilber, 1948). The approach used in the Maryland
Plan appears to eschew a focus on processes while students select content.
However, processes eventually are taught as they are required by the individual
student's project (Maley, 1973). In the same manner, industrial technology
educators started with an inputs-processes-outputs model of manufacturing or
constructing and categorized a wider array of processes needed to manufacture
and construct (Towers, Lux, & Ray, 1966). The industrial technology education
curriculum was more inclusive in that it incorporated the processes involved in
managing the businesses of manufacturing and construction. Contemporary
technology education curriculum follows the same route as industrial technol-
ogy curriculum by using an inputs-processes-outputs model for generating
curriculum (Snyder & Hales, 1981). Some variation exists with the British
models of design and technology curriculum in that problem solving becomes
the focus of the curriculum and problem solving processes in addition to tech-
nical processes are used to organize curriculum (Barlex & Kimbell, 1986;
Kimbell, 1982; Williamson & Sharpe, 1988).
It is clear that technology educators teach about processes. The differ-
ences in the curriculum orientations (when and how the processes are taught)
are rooted in teachers' beliefs about education and students. These beliefs cause
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