What is happening to traditionally ‘foundational' disciplines and subjects in the changing environment of schooling and higher education? This paper draws on over 100 qualitative interviews from an ARC project studying how teachers, academics and researchers working in history and physics now see these disciplines, the changes in train and the work they are doing. It focuses on two main questions. First, given the expansion of knowledge and knowledge possibilities today, how do those involved in these fields think about their disciplinary knowledge and the curriculum selections and emphases being made across school, undergraduate and research phases of formal education? How do they see their discipline compared with the generic skills agendas; or with university moves to more combined and interdisciplinary organizational and curriculum forms? Second, how do they see the knowledge work they do being impacted by the changing market and management contexts?
The paper shows that these academics and teachers are neither locked in the past nor easily able to cut through some of the curriculum problems they now face. They identify with their fields and have a strong sense of what is important, but a strong sense too of the ways in which their own fields have changed and expanded and pose problems for an Australian curriculum, or for universities trying to reduce their teaching costs. They believe in the vocational as well as ‘knowledge building' utility of their disciplines, but are aware that vocational discourse is undermining the health of their fields. They see a place for accountability and interdisciplinarity and explicit skill training, but argue the forms in which this is often implemented works against quality in the activities it should promote.
The empirical insights from the project will be discussed in the context of some of the broader debates about knowledge and about policy prominent in the literature.