The Problem of Curriculum Hierarchies: A Deweyian Response

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstract


Inherent in most school curricula is some sort of curriculum hierarchy – i.e., the notion that some school subjects are more valuable than others. This paper will examine the epistemological assumptions that underpin two common and problematic curriculum hierarchies. The first is associated with the traditional, dominant knowledge-centred model of curriculum. It maintains that seemingly abstract and theoretical subjects like mathematics, the physical sciences and the traditional humanities are more valuable and intellectually demanding than subjects associated with concrete experience and the body, such as physical education and ‘hands on’ art and technology subjects (e.g., see Barton, Baguley & Donald 2013; Polesel 2008; Brown 2008-2009; Blake 2006; Quin 2003; Teese & Polesel 2003; Teese, et al. 1995). The second curriculum hierarchy is basically the inverse of the first and it is associated with progressive, student-centred models of curriculum, privileging subjects that seem most facilitative of experiential and imaginative learning. Drawing on Dewey’s theory of curriculum, it will be shown that both these curriculum hierarchies are inconsistent with an educational curriculum. Contrary to common misinterpretations and misapplications of his ideas, Dewey did not prioritise subjects like art, wood-work and cooking over more traditional curriculum content like mathematics and history. Dewey proposed a curriculum grounded in authentic social problems that required students to simultaneously draw on knowledge and methods from multiple disciplines in an interconnected manner in order to work through such problems. This model of curriculum dismantled traditional hierarchies, emphasising the interdisciplinarily of all learning and inquiry.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages1
Publication statusPublished - 2014
EventAnnual Conference of the Philosophy of Education Society of Australasia 2014 - Kingsgate Hotel, Hamilton, New Zealand
Duration: 22 Nov 201425 Dec 2014


ConferenceAnnual Conference of the Philosophy of Education Society of Australasia 2014
Abbreviated titlePESA Conference
CountryNew Zealand
Internet address


  • curriculum theory
  • John Dewey
  • Curriculum hierarchies

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