A Brief Intellectual and Political History of the Present Transnational Education and Curriculum Policy Leadership Crisis

Tero Autio


This paper deals with the extensively documented crisis regarding present transnational education and curriculum policy and leadership practices from a curriculum theory point of view. This crisis, which the Finnish education policy analyst Pasi Sahlberg has characterized with the acronym GERM (Global Education Reform Model), “the virus that is killing education”, is considered through the lenses of two major curriculum theory paradigms, Anglo-American Curriculum and Northern European Bildung/Didaktik traditions. Bluntly stated, the Anglo-American curricular perspective reflects an (obsolete) image of natural science through behaviorist and cognitivist theories, which has led to administrative and political transformations based on the principles of accountability, standardization and privatization. In contrast, the Bildung tradition conceives of education and educational science as explicitly political rather than camouflaging politics by positioning science as neutral. This tradition of thought, however, has been experiencing an intellectual extinction in even its home ground of Germany. Astonishingly similar education policy outcomes to those that followed the Sputnik shock in the USA have also occurred following the German PISA shock of 2001.  Since then, the Northern European Bildung camp has adopted accountability, standardization, and privatization as key drivers of their respective education reforms, with Finland, thus far, the solitary exception. The powerful reductionism of the current political tenet “economic thought is coterminous with rationality,” adopted by neoliberal education and curriculum policy makers, may be corroding our images of democratic society and education as a vehicle of and for democracy. This paper presents examples and implies a further need for critical reactivation of the symbolic legacy of Bildung as an educational springboard for a democratic project that would identify broader social visions and moral and political considerations beyond the instrumentality of “raising test scores” and would recognize these as essential elements of sound education policy making.


Dr. Tero Henrik Autio has served as Professor of Curriculum Studies and Teacher Education at the University of Tampere, Finland and as invited International Professor of Curriculum Theory at Tallinn University, Estonia. Most recently, he has worked with the European Union to enhance PhD studies in education in post-Soviet Baltic countries. Autio has previously worked as classroom teacher in Finland specializing in math education, as a special education teacher in a child and youth psychiatric ward in Tampere University Hospital, and as a teacher educator in a vocational teacher education college in Jyväskylä, Finland. He is Vice President of the European Association for Curriculum Studies and co-chaired the Second IAACS Conference in Tampere in 2006. During his years as a student, he worked as a certified car mechanic and long distance truck driver. He loves architecture, theater, classical, pop and crossover music, interesting discussions, and curriculum theory.

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