JTE v3n2 - Social Reconstruction Curriculum and Technology Education

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