AN OUTLINE HISTORY OF CURRICULUM DEVELOPMENT

 

1. HOME.  Old testament pictures the family as the primary vehicle through which to pass on the faith. The “curriculum” was memorized passages but mostly “our story” that communicated who we were—and how we should live.

 

2. SYNAGOGUE.  During the Babylonian exile probably this more formal means of worship and study arose, including the training of the young people in order to pass on the faith.

 

3. CATECHUMEN The early church focused at first on new convert adult discipleship leading toward baptism, often using a training period of up to two years and “curriculum” of something like the “Two Ways” found in the Didache. The first part of the worship service “the service of the word” was instructional followed by the (closed to not-yet-baptized) second “service of the table.”

 

4. CLERGY SCHOOLS.  During the middle ages training moved to the schools for priests and study became the avocation of some monasteries. 

 

5. CATECHISM-CONFIRMATION. The laity during the middle ages experienced catechism before being “confirmed” and thus the Q&A approach to religious education eventually emerged.  After this initial discipleship they were left with “Christendom” lifestyle training and a vast and visual religious education experience of the cathedral windows and walls. The church year provided a “curriculum for celebrating the essentials” of Christianity.

 

6. PREACHING.   During the Reformation there was a revival of teaching and instruction from the pulpit (though not as “curriculum” except by the church year) to augment the initial curricularized catechism. 

 

7. PUBLIC SCHOOL.  In the earliest days of America the Bible was used in public schools as a tool for education and was in a sense “curriculum” for teaching its stories and especially to elicit a moral life.

 

8. CLASS MEETING. The Methodists brought this method of small group discipleship to America and thus adult education and accountability spread rapidly.

 

9.  SUNDAY SCHOOL. The American Sunday School Union (later National Sunday School Convention) supported this mighty movement in churches and as a para-church movement to disciple young people initially.  Curriculum initially was mostly “memory work.”

 

10. UNIFORM LESSONS. In 1869 the National Sunday School Convention started preparing these lessons that offered one passage to study for all ages and all churches.  This movement lasted almost 100 years.  The organizing principle was study of bible content.

 

11. GRADED LESSONS.  Beginning in 1908 this style of lessons began to gain ground since they considered more carefully the needs at each age level.

 

12. CHARACTER EDUCATION.  Starting in 1925 (William Clayton Bower) the notion that experience should be at the center of curriculum began to grow.  The International Council of Religious Education emerged to develop curriculum such experience-based outlines and gradually moved toward “character education” as the model of CE.

 

13.  APPLICATION ORIENTATION  Through the 1960s and following curriculum increasingly emphasized application and interactivity though continuing to tip its hat to content.  Curriculum supposedly became more “student-centered” than “lesson centered” or “Bible centered.”  The notion that “knowing the Bible would make a disciple was abandoned, though curriculum continued to list “memory verses” though they were seldom used in any serious way.  For adults curriculum increasingly became discussion of life and the latest Christian book or series.  The notion of any sort of “curriculum” (as in intentional sequence over the years) was abandoned for adults and abandoned by local churches for many children and all youth.

 

14. PROGRAM ORIENTATION.  With the late 1980’s and 1990’s came the twins: the “Church growth movement” and its child the “worship movement” ushering in an era of programming and sometimes even baby sitting for children.  Making sure “they liked it” was increasingly important and groups got larger, particularly as litigation emerged by the turn of the century against churches for child sexual abuse.  Increasingly “curriculum” became a random selection of short units that were strung together with little forthought to any scope or sequence.  Most publishers eventually succumbed to the market, though continued to produce curriculum as if everyone used their products exclusively and in order and the students actually might attend that church weekly for a dozen years in a row.  “Education” began to look more like “programming.”   For many churches youth CE became identical to “youth group” and Children’s CE became just another large goup program of Children’s church.

 

15. EMERGING STRAINS.   Where are we now?  What strains are emerging in CE.  Certainly the “Spiritual formation movement” is at hand—but where will it lead?  What will we do with “12 year cycles” in the modern world?  Who will design curriculum?  how does the Purpose Driven Life phenomenon affect curriculum in the future?  What is emerging?  What do you think?

 

Keith Drury

Indiana Wesleyan University

Keith.drury@indwes.edu