Journal of Technology Education

Journal of Technology Education

Current Editor: Chris Merrill,
Previous Editors: Mark Sanders 1989-1997; James LaPorte: 1997-2010

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Volume 3, Number 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 reconstruction
                        curriculum orientation. In this paper I will explore social
                        reconstruction 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,
                            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 American 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 individual 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
                        students, 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, aesthetic, or practical
                        interests; 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
                            institution. (Dewey and Childs, 1933, p. 65)
                            Interestingly, the Progressives based their
                        interpretation of social reconstruction in experimentalism,
                        science, and technology. Experimentalism and faith in
                        science and technology are fundamental to the philosophy of
                        pragmatism. 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 administrators as they
                        determined the structure of schools. Moreover, Dewey and
                        Childs (1933) spoke of the use of instrumentalism as a
                        technology of education 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. Individual 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).
                            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 aesthetic 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 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
                            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
                        The Legacy
                            Very little evidence of the social reconstruction
                        curriculum remains today. 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 reconstruction 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 acceptance
                            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
                            justifying them. (p. 33)
                        Essentially, Dewey and Childs are critiquing the failure to
                        move from the academic rationalist curriculum of the Greek
                        tradition and the personal needs curriculum of the
                        Herbartian tradition. Educators are still struggling with
                        these, 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 traditional 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 personalities 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.
                        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, 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 issues and problems which result from our
                        use (as a society) of technology.
                        Creating a Social Reconstruction Curriculum for Technology
                            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, examples of a social reconstruction
                        orientation in technology education, and what is not a
                        social reconstruction curriculum orientation in technology
                        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
                        industrial 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 transform 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 technology 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 technical processes
                        are used to organize curriculum (Barlex & Kimbell, 1986;
                        Kimbell, 1982; Williamson & Sharpe, 1988).
                            It is clear that technology educators teach about
                        processes. The differences in the curriculum orientations
                        (when and how the processes are taught) are rooted in
                        teachers' beliefs about education and students. These
                        beliefs cause the teacher to select and organize the
                        processes in a variety of ways. The differences lie in the
                        way in which the teacher chooses to slice the pie of the
                        current content universe of technical processes.
                        Organizing Technology Education with a Social Reconstruction
                            In order to implement a social reconstruction
                        curriculum orientation in technology education social
                        problems which have particular relevance to technology are
                        chosen and become the means for organizing technical
                        processes. Technical processes are taught only as the need
                        to know them in order to solve the social problem arises.
                        For example, pressing social problems such as designing and
                        constructing low cost housing for the homeless, refurbishing
                        low cost housing, or retrofitting housing with energy saving
                        devices becomes the thrust of a social reconstruction
                        curriculum in a construction class. Students may never get a
                        chance to try all of the processes, such as installing
                        shingles on a roof or wiring, needed in order to build a
                        contemporary home. The teacher is more concerned about the
                        social problem and creating a community with students and
                        society and is less concerned about "covering the content."
                        Only the technical processes needed to construct the
                        alternative form of housing are taught to those students who
                        need to know the technical processes. The teacher also
                        trusts that the greater social goal is of more value than
                        specific content. The teacher believes that the experience
                        of solving a problem such as creating low cost shelter for
                        the homeless will instill in students habits and enthusiasm
                        for seeking out the knowledge and skills needed to take on
                        additional problems which will involve other knowledge and
                        skills. The teacher also believes that by example and
                        practice with selected processes that attitudes of safety
                        and pride in quality will transfer to new processes. In this
                        way the teacher hopes to help a student to be not dependent
                        upon instruction in order to function as an adult in
                        society, but to be willing to experiment and to try new
                        ideas and skills.
                            We are not lacking in pressing social problems which
                        relate to technology. Each content area of technology
                        education can be used as a vehicle for attacking social
                        concerns. Some examples include:
                        1. Designing and creating less polluting power systems for
                        2. Designing and creating prototype alternative
                           transportation systems for the community and presenting
                           those designs to city council
                        1. Investigating the effects of local manufacturing firms
                           policies on the local environment and either honoring the
                           firms or approaching the firms with suggestions for
                        2. Investigating and attempting to develop biodegradable
                        3. Creating a manufacturing business which makes a product
                           identified as valuable to a select market such as senior
                           citizens or low socio-economic status (SES) citizens in the
                           local community and marketing that product to them on a cost
                           recovery basis
                        1. Creating and testing personal emergency  communication
                           devices for handicapped people
                        2. Examining advertising claims by doing product testing and
                           reporting the results to the local community
                        1. Conducting an energy audit on the school building and
                           making recommendations to the school board for retrofitting
                           energy saving devices
                        2. Conducting energy audits and correcting the deficiencies
                           on students' homes, homes of the elderly, and homes of low
                           SES citizens
                            The list of examples is bounded only by the imagination
                        of the students and teachers who, in partnership, implement
                        a social reconstruction curriculum orientation in technology
                        What A Social Reconstruction Curriculum Orientation Is Not
                            Another way of illustrating something is to discuss
                        what it is not. I choose to discuss what a social
                        reconstruction orientation to curriculum is not by using
                        illustrations drawn from contemporary technology education
                            It is not having the teacher choose course content or
                        the social problems. It is not isolating students in glitzy
                        cubicles in front of computer screens which feed a
                        standardized curriculum to all students during their
                        rotation through a modular curriculum. It is not having all
                        students complete the same project. It is not having
                        students solve unrelated problems created by teachers in
                        order to address course content or to keep the students
                        active. It is not failing to challenge students to be
                        critical of their school and culture (of which industry is a
                        part). It is not teaching technological processes in an
                        uncritical manner. It is not permitting individual students
                        to make projects solely to satisfy individual needs. It is
                        not teaching students how to follow directions all of the
                        time. It is not determining what content a child needs to
                        know in the future in order to be a successful adult,
                        thereby limiting the potential of the child. It is not
                        lacking the commitment to take a stand, one which will not
                        be universally agreed upon, on issues, all issues. It is not
                        discouraging students from taking a stand on issues.
                            Whatever technology education activities are conducted
                        in a social reconstruction curriculum orientation, there is
                        a social purpose to the activity. That social purpose should
                        be left to the choice of the students, because the students
                        are to be encouraged to take on the responsibility of
                        recreating society.
                            Several purposes of education have been prominent in
                        this country since the beginning of public education. Social
                        reconstruction is one of the unique categories of purpose
                        which has helped to shape educators' thinking about
                        curriculum. Social reconstruction curriculum tries to
                        involve students in school and community life in order to
                        help them to become adults who can reconstruct and improve
                            Many technology educators have tried activities with
                        students which were motivated by a social reconstruction
                        perspective, but few have implemented a complete program. In
                        fact, there are few examples of any program which is
                        singular in curriculum orientation.
                            There is a greater problem with the social
                        reconstruction curriculum orientation. This is the focus on
                        social problems and the inescapable problem of having the
                        choice of the social problem reveal a value orientation. The
                        Progressives were well aware of this underlying tension
                        which involves taking a stand on the issues confronting
                        today's society. It is much easier to remain in the isolated
                        school environment than to declare one's political
                        orientation in an effort to attempt to remedy social
                        problems, for it is in the way in which one chooses to solve
                        the problem that one's political ideology is revealed.
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                        Karen Zuga is Associate Professor, Department of Educational
                        Studies, The Ohio State University, Columbus, OH.

              Journal of Technology Education   Volume 3, Number 2       Spring 1992