What to Do About Joseph Schwab and the Rabbis

  • Thomas W. Roby


Joseph Schwab’s (1909-1988) importance in education research involves his scathing critique of curriculum theories that fail education, together with corresponding efforts to refocus curriculum studies on practice, especially in the classroom. These were centered in College Curriculum and Student Protest (1969) and a series of six articles, The Practicals 1-4 which were published between 1969 and 1983 (1978, 1983).

In College Curriculum and Student Protest (1969), Schwab diagnosed student turmoil as symptomatic of failures in schooling. He prescribed curricular changes and teaching devices based on liberal arts that could actively engage students in their education. Arguing against a body of rote methods or rhetoric of conclusions as the rationale for undergraduate education, he explored the liberal arts as resources that can enable students to find their own questions for texts or problems and to become their own critics. Most importantly, he showed how the disintegrating college communities could be restored and renewed.

In The Practical papers, he proposed that five bodies of disciplines and experiences be represented in a collaborative group undertaking the task of curriculum revision. Schwab called four of these the Commonplaces of educational thinking, which require representatives of the affected learners, teachers, subject matters, and (socialcultural) milieus, respectively. The fifth is that of the curriculum specialist who must work with the other representatives to assure that the commonplaces are properly coordinated and to make all aware that changes in any one will have consequences for the others. Unbalanced deliberations, either dominated by a single commonplace or omitting 2 some, lead to successive bandwagon curricula each based on an exclusive theory, e.g., of child development, teacher needs, subject matter innovation, or social change.

Schwab designed a set of eclectic arts to join theories across disciplines so that scholarly and research materials could be shaped into teachable curricula. He developed another set of practical arts for the problem-perceiving, problem-posing, and problem-solving activities required by the unsatisfactory curricular situation. (1978, 324-332)