Question: Is curriculum design prescriptive or descriptive? And who controls the curriculum?
Learners, teachers, and those in a support role in the education process all participate in building the curriculum. For instance, the definition of mastery level skills or outcomes within any curriculum may be defined by diverse players in the process, such as teachers and schools, subject matter experts, administrators, accrediting boards, organizationally authored standards, societally prescribed qualifications, or codified, systematized bodies of knowledge. These players act in a dynamic and synthetic relationship.
I hold that a false dichotomy is being imposed when one attempts to explicate the curriculum in either exclusively prescriptive or descriptive terms. It is both/and, a holism. The curriculum is composed of what it is not as much as what it is. The American motto of e pluribus unum plays well in this context. The curriculum requires learner, societal, and knowledge facets, but whenever one centers exclusively on an individual facet one mitigates the overall experience of the whole in some way. It is reflective of the complexity of reality in tension- we are many voices.
My approach to building curriculum in specific contexts is a holistic approach that focuses on the accurate parsing or reckoning of reality as the ultimate outcome. In VERY simplified terms, this consists first and foremost of the establishment of objectives, defined by the context. Then the means or source of reaching the objectives are identified. Thirdly , the outcomes are qualified. These three major concerns comprise a concurrenty descriptive/ prescriptive first phase of building the curriculum. The design is held in context(s) by propositional truths that form bridges between elements or subtopics, as well as introduce and conclude the curriculum.
Just as important is what I deem a ”recursive transformative function” of reckoning reality and responding to it accordingly. This is the engine of learning and is primarily concerned with the critical appropriation of information and metacognitive aspects of thinking.
This is typically accomplished in the presentation of case statements- “if a is true, then b follows.” In other words, experience serves as the moderator of the prescription. Information is reckoned, evaluated, and measured, then it is either recognized as truth or rejected, and finally one renders themselves as changed by the process; conversely one re-enters the evaluative struggle with the truth text. The “then” side of the case statement can be positive or negative instruction based on whether the objective is to affirm a current state of being/ experience or to prescribe change. Finally, to move forward in the course, action and application (experience) is required, as the reckoning of reality demands response, whether positive or negative and the transformative function of learning results in some sort of mind renewal unto praxis. Denial of the reality results in truth suppression. One primary role of the teacher is to help the student contextualize and apply information.