I experienced the Tyler rationale, or traditional teaching from curriculum, throughout most of my schooling. This often involved racing through topics, with the teacher telling us key points to remember for the test. We would then take our notes home, study them, and return to write the test. We would then move onto the next topic, instantly forgetting everything about the previous one. It was the same in every subject: our teacher would have a list of things we had to cover that day, as well as a few assignments we would have to do. We would check things off the list, then move on so that we could “finish the curriculum before the end of the year.” While we were able to cover a lot of content in relatively little time, it also limited how much knowledge we were able to receive, as we were unable to “go off track” and explore for ourselves. This style of teaching I experienced follows Smith’s (1996, 2000) explanation of the Tyler rationale perfectly: “[There is] a focus in this approach to curriculum theory and practice on the parts rather than the whole; on the trivial, rather than the significant. It can lead to an approach to education and assessment which resembles a shopping list.” Our class had become a list of tasks to accomplish, much like a shopping list, where we only focused on some details of a topic, while ignoring the bigger picture, and refusing to explore other, possibly relevant areas. This was especially evident in elementary school, where our teachers often had too many students, too few materials, and too much curriculum to cover in too little time. Following this rationale, despite how these circumstances and the overall environment affected how our teachers had to teach, parents and academics can easily blame teachers for lack of learning, by stating they did not have clear objectives. It allows them to sideline other variables affecting student’s ability to learn as non-issues, while placing too much focus on the “shopping list.”
My own experiences have made it clear to me that the traditional method, or the “Tyler rationale,” makes certain types of learning impossible. Often, we were provided with a surface understanding of a topic, enough to satisfy the curriculum and allow us to pass our tests, but never deeper. In areas like math, this knowledge sufficed and allowed us to be successful in later years. However, in subjects like Social Studies and English, this base knowledge was not nearly enough. We didn’t understand the deeper social issues of historical events and how they can still be seen today, and thus struggled to write essays about these issues later on, as we didn’t know they existed. Furthermore, it caused many misunderstandings later in life by oversimplifying topics. For example, we were taught that racism was any act or speech based on a person’s race, directed towards a person with the intention to harm. This definition allowed us to dissociate ourselves with the issue, because “We don’t say those things or think them; therefor we are not part of the problem and don’t have to do anything.” This didn’t allow us to see how racism is a structure that functions throughout our society, or how we are privileged or disadvantaged in certain ways, regardless of whether or not we engage in prejudiced remarks. Additionally, it does not allow for student-directed learning to occur, as there is a pre-determined list of topics that must be covered. This does not allow for students to choose topics that are of interest to them, as they may not directly tie into curriculum, despite the fact that the students would likely retain more of what they learned if they are interested in it and can apply it to their everyday lives.
This method also does not allow for strong teacher-student relationships to form, as it distinguishes the different roles as opposites. Teachers are there to teach, complete their list of tasks for the day, then go home. Students are there to learn, do their work and listen, then go home. This does not allow for mutual teaching and learning to be occurring, as it is assumed from the moment one walks into the classroom that the teacher knows all, while the students are blank slates. This also puts all the focus on academic learning, and does not value learning that can occur through interactions. Smith (1996, 2002) describes these as “unanticipated results,” which are often overlooked as they do not fit with any of the listed objectives. This can be harmful to students, especially if their primary learning strategy is based on interactions with those around them. Moreover, this rationale marginalizes students by assuming learning can only occur if they change their behaviour to mirror new learnings. This does not allow a place for student’s prior knowledge and experiences to be considered, and silences those who have a different cultural background (and as such may have different practices when it comes to education and what is considered “learning” and “valuable knowledge”), as the curriculum represents the goals and values of the dominant culture.
However, there are also some benefits to this rationale. The organization of topics and stages allows for easy lesson planning, while also allowing student’s knowledge to build on itself as they are introduced to more and more complex topics. It also makes marking a student much easier, as the teacher does not need to observe each child as closely everyday to assess for learning, or figure out a way to mark individual projects on different topics for what the student may have learned. Rather, they are able to concretely assess whether or not a student has learned the key points that have been laid out, either through tests, projects, or homework. This makes it so the teacher must only develop one marking system, rather than one for each student.
Another benefit is that it universalizes knowledge. This allows students to all (hopefully) finish with the same knowledge, giving them more equal access to opportunities in their future, while also ensuring that they all have the knowledge necessary for attending university, trade school, or whatever else they may choose to do. This attempts to “level the playing field” when it comes to class, race, socioeconomic status, and gender, as all will have access to the same knowledge.
It is clear that there is no single answer to the question of how one should teach. There will always be pros and cons to every method, and it will primarily depend on the group of students and their individual needs. However, weighing the possible pros and cons of an approach prior to using it can help teachers assess them for any possible risks of harm, then modify it to fit their particular needs. For example, the Tyler Rationale has its benefits, but it also may harm some students if employed exactly how it is. To fix this, a teacher may adjust learning objectives to be more open-ended or to reflect more of their students. They may choose to allow students to direct their own learning, while still having a clear list of objectives that students must achieve, then work with students as a guide to ensure they reach them. There are endless ways to modify one’s approaches to suit the needs of their students, if only we are willing to let go of our ideas surrounding what qualifies as teaching and learning, and go beyond the traditional approach to bring education into the twenty-first century.
Smith, M. K. (1996, 2000) ‘Curriculum theory and practice’ the encyclopaedia of informal education, www.infed.org/biblio/b-curric.htm.