The Four Major Curriculum Styles

Simpsons school chaos

This was something I wrote for my class on Multiculturalism in Education in response to an article that summarized the four main curriculum styles: Linear Thinkers, Holists, Laissez-Faire advocates and critical theorists. Author Donna Miller’s takeaway is that teachers should be aware of these different ways of thinking, and how it influences their preferences.

Relevant facts mentioned in the article include that

  • Linear thinkers prefer order and efficiency, which extends to fiscal matters. Standards and procedures are valued under this school of thought, which is reflected in many aspects of the standard school experience (schedules, examinations), as well as the utilization of Bloom’s taxonomy.
  • Holists believe that student interest should drive the learning experience, with teachers modifying lessons accordingly. They focus on emotional and creative components, as well as the intellectual.
  • Laissez-faire suggests a “participatory democracy” where students are given access to material and texts that allow them to pursue their own interests.
  • Critical theorists guide students for leadership positions outside the school, with an emphasis on exploring social justice.

I’m fairly new to Education. The classes I’ve had have prepared me more for the linear thinking model, developing a greater understanding of Bloom’s taxonomy and lesson planning. Several theorists from the Holist and Laissez-faire models have also come up in my reading.

Since Common Core is obviously the result of a linear thinking model, it’s fortunate that it reflects my priorities the most. A major part of my political philosophy is using the public purse as efficiently as possible, and I believe it’s important for children living in different areas to have a similar quality of education, as many will be working together and going to college together. There is something enticing about critical theory, and it does fit my interest in looking at the world in counter-intuitive ways. I have deep concerns about it, as I’m worried that many students aren’t sufficiently prepared to be critical about the person telling them to be critical of authority. There are key questions that have to be addressed: Who determines the understanding of the world that children should have? What are the correct interpretations of debates people have had for centuries?

parking lot full question authority

During the summer, I co-taught a tenth grade ELA course. One of my struggles was determining what the students needed to learn, since a few of the Common Core requirements were rather vague, and covered material I wasn’t prepared for (IE- lexile bands.)  In other courses, at least there’s a better understanding of the ideal material. A science teacher knows what to cover in Biology, and what to cover in Chemistry, but these divisions aren’t as clear with English courses.

The High School I went to had an interesting compromise between the Linear Thinker and Holist model. The majority of courses were mandatory, which had the advantage of ensuring a consistent education. In addition, every student had to pick among various elective classes. That allowed the students to explore areas where they were interested, and many of those programs offered more opportunities for freedom to act.

Many of the criticisms of education do result in disagreements among adherents of various philosophies. I’m interested in the idea of the Western Canon, and how it can be used to ensure that students have similar frames of reference when they enter the adult world. A linear thinking model would ensure that most students cover the same material. The Holist model would allow teachers more flexibility to pick texts that would interest their students, while the Laissez-Faire model might leave it up to the individual students[1]. A critical theorist model would question how the canon was assembled, and why various texts were excluded.

Some of the shortcomings of the educational experience don’t really fall into any of these categories. For example, empirical evidence suggests that it’s better for teenagers to wake up later in the day, so that a 10-5 schedule is likely better than an 8-3. But we still have an 8-3 schedule. It’s a reminder that there are other forces determining education philosophy than the different views of the educators.

[1] It just occurred to me that this assignment fits a laissez-faire model with the students in the course selecting the reading they want to do. Ideally, they would use it to select the text that would teach them the most.

About Thomas Mets

I’m a comic book fan, wannabe writer, politics buff and New Yorker. I don’t actually follow baseball. In the Estonian language, “Mets” simply means forest, or lousy sports team. You can email me at
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