Building a Defensible Curriculum Base
Educators seem to have a strong desire to relive
historical mistakes. During the 1960s, industrial arts
innovators divided into three fairly distinct camps. One
group could be characterized as the technology camp and was
championed by DeVore (1966)and others. Another group was
the industry group which was championed by the Ohio State
IACP staff (Towers, 1966). A third group was the
child-centered group championed by Maley (1973). These
people and their followers spent an inordinate amount of
time debating the content base for industrial arts and
criticizing the other camps' position. However valuable this
discourse was, the vast majority of the field was unmoved.
Most programs continued to focus their efforts on the skills
involved in woodworking, metalworking, and drafting,
It took the Jacksons Mill Project (Hales and Snyder,
n.d.) to cause curriculum innovators to realize that a
central focus was necessary if industrial arts programs were
to change. For a period of time, the Jackson's Mill
curriculum consensus held and significant program
Today, technology educators are again beginning to
divide into camps over curriculum structure issues and to
dissipate the focus of the field. There are number of rea-
sons for this split. Some people feel they must make their
"unique" personal contribution to the field. Other leaders
are convinced that conditions in their state require a
special focus for their state's technology program. Still
other people feel that any curriculum structure over five
years old is obsolete.
These different positions are dangerous if technology
education is to become recognized as a vital area of study
for all youth. Instead of everyone going their own way, the
leaders of the field must recognize that all subject areas
have a fairly stable curriculum structure under which
dynamic content fits. For example, science does not change
its chemistry, physics, biology, curriculum structure every
five years. This action does not cause curriculum stagnation
because the content under each of these headings is open for
constant review and change.
The challenge to all technology educators is to apply
the same logic as science uses to determine the curriculum
focus and structure for the study of technology. This action
will require a logical, sequential approach.
First, the arena of the discipline must be established.
This action determines the scope of the curriculum. For
example, science relies on evidence to develop hypotheses
and theories to identify consistent patterns of things and
events in the universe (Project 2061, 1989). Its arena,
then, is focused on the procedures used to study the natural
world and the impacts these findings have on human
Technology education also has its focus. Technology is
used to create the human-made world. Technologists apply
human and physical resources to design, produce, and assess
artifacts and systems that control and modify the natural
and human-made environments. Also, developing and using
technology impacts people, society, and the environment.
Therefore the arena of technology is the practices used to
develop, produce, and use artifacts and the impacts these
actions have on humans and the natural world.
Once the arena of the discipline has been established a
second curriculum development step is required. A clear
distinction between the "hows" and "whys" of technology must
be made. For example, the Project 2061 report suggests "...
the various scientific disciplines are alike in their
reliance on evidence, their use of hypotheses and theories,
the kinds of logic used, and much more. Nevertheless,
scientists differ greatly from one another in the phenomena
they investigate..." This statement suggests there is a
fairly common way scientists investigate the universe and
that various scientists focus their investigation to
specific areas of science.
Technology, likewise, has a way new artifacts are
developed. It, also, has an accumulated body of knowledge
that explains existing technologies and provides the
foundation for new technological advancements. Technology
educators need to look at these foci so students can study
(1) the processes used by practitioners to develop new
technology, (2) the areas of technology which represent the
accumulated knowledge of practice, and (3) the impacts of
technology. A program that focuses on one of these elements
at the exclusion of the others will be incomplete.
However, identifying the primary foci of a program is
not enough. The curriculum developer must address each of
these foci individually.
Investigating the first focus requires identifying the
procedure used to address technological problems and
opportunities. This procedure establishes the "scientific
method" of technology. Over time it has been described as
the design method (Lindbeck, 1963), problem solving
(Waetjen, 1989), and the technological method. A common
outline for this process includes (1) defining the problem,
(2) developing alternate solutions, (3) selecting a
solution, (4) implementing and evaluating the solution, (5)
redesigning the solution, and (6) interpreting the solution
(Savage and Sterry, 1990).
This procedure describes how technologists approach a
problem or opportunity. It describes the way the human-made
world is created through discovery, invention, innovation,
and development. However, it is only part of a study of
technology. The other part becomes clear when the second
program focus is describe which will result in developing a
system to identify and categorize the accumulate knowledge
This system must meet the rules for all category
systems (Ray and Streichler, 1971):
1. Each entry must be mutually exclusive of other entries.
2. The entries must be totally inclusive of the phenomena
3. The system must be functional.
Establishing a way to structure the knowledge of
technology causing the profession considerable trauma and is
dividing the profession the most. A number of systems have
been developed to meet this challenge. Two that seem to
have the most promise are the Jackson's Mill (Hales and
Snyder, n.d.) human productive activities of communication,
construction, manufacturing, and transportation and the
Dutch pillars of technology (Wolters, 1989) which allow for
studying energy, information and matter (material)
Whichever model the field chooses, one of those listed
above or some other, we must resist the product consumption
mentality presently being used by some change agents. We
need not discard our curriculum structures and philosophical
foundations with the frequency we do automobiles and
clothing. Chasing fads and personal promotion will do little
to develop a credible profession or defensible programs. We
urgently need to reach a curriculum compromise in the spirit
of Jackson's Mill. Only then can states or local districts
address their need for curriculum change with confidence
they are not buying into a fad or an incompletely developed
The third focus of a complete technology education
program has received the least attention and may well be the
most important. It requires identifying the relationship
and interaction among technology, people, society, the
environment and other disciplines. Technology is not a
natural phenomena. It is the product of human volition.
People saw its development, production, and use as necessary
or economically profitable. However, reaching this human
vision has positive and negative impacts on people,
societies, and the environment.
Likewise, technology is not an isolated body of
knowledge. It has strong connections with all other areas of
knowledge. Science explains the naturals laws that are
applied by technology. Mathematics and mathematical models
explain the operation of technological systems. Language and
art can be used to describe technology and its impacts. The
social studies can describe how technology has, is, and may
well impact and be impacted by people and society.
This challenges educators to seek content and course
integration. In a recent discussion, an aeronautical
engineer (Thompson, 1991) suggested that he didn't see
knowledge as discrete subjects like educators do. He said
that life's experiences and challenges immediately
integrated knowledge. The solutions to the challenges
facing society are not the domain of a single discipline.
Clearly defining and describing technological knowledge
while seeking its integration with other disciplines will
lead the profession, as a whole, to a recognition that (1)
technology education is the study of the human-made world,
(2) technologists use the technological (problem solving)
method to develop new and improved artifacts and systems,
(3) technology is used to help people meet their
communication, product, and transportation needs and, (4)
technology impacts and is impacted by people, society, and
This four-point philosophy leads us to believe that,
like science, there is a generic way to approach a
technological problem or opportunity; there are unique
practices used to produce, operate, and maintain each device
or system; and these actions operated in historical,
personal, and societal contexts (see Figure 1). Standing on
this solid philosophical ground we can get on with the
important task that must be addressed:developing meaningful
laboratory-based, action-oriented courses that will introduce
students to the exciting field of technology. Only then can
we build a case for requiring all students at all grade
level to study technology.
Figure 1. A model of the relationship between problem
solving, technical actions, and technological contexts.
(GET FIGURE1 JTE-V3N2)
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Hales, J. & Snyder, J. (n.d.) Jacksons Mill industrial arts
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Lindbeck, J. (1963). Design textbook. Bloomington, IL:
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Maley, D. (1973). The Maryland plan. New York: Benziger
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Project 2061. (1989). Science for all Americans. Washington,
D.C.: American Association for the Advancement of
Ray, W. E. & Streichler, J. (1971). Components of teacher
education. Washington: American Council on Industrial
Arts Teacher Education
Savage, E. & Sterry, L. (1990). A conceptual framework for
technology education. Reston, VA: International
Technology Education Association.
Thompson, J. Personal discussion on October 4, 1991
Waetjen, W. (1989). Technological problem solving. Reston,
VA: International Technological Education Society.
Wolters, F. (1989). A PATT study among 10 to 12 year-olds.
Journal of Technology Education, 1(1).
Wright, R. T. (1991). Implementing technology education.
Technology Focus, Spring/Summer.
Tom Wright is Professor of Industry and Technology, Ball State
University, Muncie, IN.
Journal of Technology Education Volume 3, Number 2 Spring 1992