History and Physics: disciplinary forms in the face of education reform agendas

Year: 2016

Author: Yates, Lyn, Millar, Victoria, O'Connor, Kate, Woelert, Peter

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Sociological studies have tended to see history and physics as having some similarities in being ‘pure’ rather than applied forms of knowledge, but structured differently, using vertical knowledge-building and paradigm consensus in the case of physics (and science more generally) and horizontal forms of knowledge-building and ongoing paradigm contestation in the case of history (and humanities more generally). Muller (2009) has argued that the differences in structural form impact on the general teaching, supervision and research practices of the knowledge workers in these fields, and also on what needs to be respected if curriculum is to be meaningful. In this project we looked more closely at the curriculum thinking associated with the two fields, and found both some support and some disruption of the claims about verticality and horizontal differences made in previous literature. More significantly, the comparison shows some similarity in how people in these fields think about what is ‘powerful’ in them and that this is in conflict with some outcomes-based, short-term and utilitarian agendas at work in the reforms. At the same time differences in the two forms of knowledge are an underpinning of the challenges for them in the current reform environment, where the purpose of history in the school curriculum has unavoidable political challenges for an Australian Curriculum; and where the traditions in history of open boundaries but strong identity produce greater impact on history than on physics of university reforms which move to collapse boundaries and reduce subject slots in the undergraduate curriculum.Muller, J. (2009). Forms of knowledge and curriculum coherence. Journal of Education & Work, 22(3), 205-226.