Doing Research about Education

By Geoffrey Walford | Go to book overview

2

Researching the 'Pastoral' and the 'Academic': An Ethnographic Exploration of Bernstein's Sociology of the Curriculum

Sally Power


Introduction

It would be something of an exaggeration to say that reading Basil Bernstein changed my life. But it is true to say that his paper 'On the classification and framing of educational knowledge' (Bernstein, 1971) altered the way I looked at education. Even though it had been published for over 10 years and was widely recognized as a seminal text by the time I came across it, it seemed to offer a perspective that was not only entirely novel but eminently convincing. Overriding the long-established assumption that the division and ranking of school knowledge into different categories reflects the various properties of its subject matter, Bernstein claimed '…there is nothing intrinsic to the relative status of various contents, there is nothing intrinsic to the relationships between contents' (1971, p. 49). Rather than focus our attention on the content of school knowledge we might, therefore, more fruitfully analyse the curriculum 'in terms of the principle by which units of time and their contents are brought into a special relationship with each other' (p. 48). Bernstein argued that this relationship could be analysed through two structural dimensions. 'Classification' indicates the degree of closure or openness between constituent elements. 'Framing' indicates the degree of rigidity or leeway within the mode of pedagogy. Seduced by both the scope and precision of the arguments, my understanding of education became itself increasingly structured through sets of oppositions: Where were the boundaries between subjects 'strong' or 'weak'? How open or closed were the principles of transmission? Whose knowledge categories were 'pure' or 'mixed'? Which knowledge was 'sacred' and which 'profane'?

In the English secondary school, many of these oppositions seemed to be embodied within the division that had emerged between the teaching of school subjects and the organizational structures designed to foster students' personal and social development. Although the term 'pastoral care' has been around for some time, its widespread institutionalization within secondary schools as a distinctive and systematized form of provision dates back no further than 30 years. Yet despite its relatively rapid and extensive emergence, the significance

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