Curriculum Politics in Urban Schooling
Louise Adler and Kip Tellez
There are as many definitions of curriculum as there are commentators; and, significantly for this discussion, defining curriculum is itself a political act that serves the value interests of the person positing the definition. A definition quoted by Tony Becher and Stuart Maclure will serve for the purposes of this discussion: "A curriculum is the offering of socially valued knowledge, skills and attitudes made available to students through a variety of arrangements during the time they are at school."1H. D. Lasswell described politics as "who gets what."2 Three questions arise when discussing curriculum politics in urban schooling: (1) who decides what will be in the curriculum?, (2) whose interests are served by the curriculum?, and (3) what are the consequences of the choices?
This chapter begins with a definition of the scope of academic comment on curriculum politics in general. It then focuses briefly on two issues that override all others in curriculum in urban schools: (1) the connection between jobs and the willingness of students to be engaged with the curriculum and (2) the impact of waves of migration to cities by both voluntary immigrants and castelike minority groups. With this framework in place, the chapter then moves into a discussion of specific curricular political issues.
What students are taught and what they learn in urban schools are determined by a complex interplay between the forces that determine curriculum content in general and the political, economic, and social forces that impact the urban setting (especially racial, class, and cultural issues). Capturing this complexity in a single model is very difficult. Many of the issues involved can be understood as debates between opposing views, which are frequently stated in terms of black-and-white issues. It is as if a five-level chess game is being played by an