The What and How of Teaching

Curriculum is ever-changing, so why aren’t our methods?

Curriculum and teaching as a field of study has been laden with debate on a variety of superficial and deeper issues. Kieran Egan, professor at Simon Fraser University, explores this deeper in his article published in the Journal of the Canadian Association for Curriculum Studies entitled What is Curriculum? He explores the historical development of curriculum, its growth as a field of study, and its complexities. The root of these complexities stem from conflict amongst an array of elements; whether a student of curriculum should be a student of instructional methods, whether curriculum involves all learning experiences or simply in a school setting, or whether curriculum is objective or evaluative. Egan concludes by legitimizing curriculum as a field of study and places equal weight of what should be taught and how it should be taught.

ThinkerAncient Roman scholar Cicero explored the relationship between the educational system andthe learner. Initially, Cicero explored curriculum as the space (container) in which society lives as opposed to contents, but later came to include the content in which he studied. Egan’s historical journey of curriculum continued into the medieval realm and early modern period in England and Germany. The notion of curriculum as space and content varied little throughout this time period, exemplified through John Russell in his travels as stating that when the “German student finished his curriculum, he leaves the university.” From ancient civilization until the middle of the eighteenth century, it is evident that there was little variance from curriculum witnessed through the lens of what should be taught. During the latter part of the eighteenth century until present day, the debate over curriculum continues due to the inclusion of how it should be taught.


This paradigm shift from what into how curriculum should be taught evolved from the influence of Pinel in France through his institution solely dedicated to working with deaf mutes. For Pinel, curriculum was not what should be taught, but rather what methods and procedures were best for his learners. Appointed to this institute was Jean Itard who exemplified Pinel’s search for best practice for best results. Itard worked with a deaf-mute boy who had no communication skills because he survived alone in the woods during the early years of his life. Through Itard’s educational methodologies, this boy was transformed into someone with basic perceptions and skills. With this success and the continued work of Edward Seguin, writings of Rousseau, and work of John Dewey, methods and procedures became an important focus for educators, thus making what less critical.

What and How of Teaching

Through Egan’s exploration of the rise, evolution, debate, and meaning of curriculum, it is evident that curriculum inquiry is educational inquiry because “both properly address the what and how questions together and deal with all the ramifications of trying to answer what should students learn, in what sequence, and by what methods. Curriculum as both what and how is the foundation of contemporary education and the most crucial elements from Egan’s work. Although much of the work emphasized the historical connection and evolution of curriculum, the eventual agreement of curriculum as an interconnection of both content and methodology proves the most useful. Throughout the data that Egan presents it is clear that the study of curriculum stems from ancient scholars and is innately complex due to the variance in lenses that can be used; both formal education and informal experiences. Curriculum encompasses both of the aforementioned elements and becomes even more complex through the examination of individuality as seen through Dewey’s work. Egan demonstrates a great understanding of the multilayers of curriculum, its interconnections, and that curriculum is alive. 

One thought on “The What and How of Teaching

Add yours

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

© 2022 | Joseph D'Addario

Up ↑