Some Fundamental Questions

For Exploring the Professional Problems of Teachers

In order to understand and work with the problems we encounter in our professional lives, we need to consider a number of key questions. These questions will help us to understand:

  • The context or contexts of the problem, including the underlying assumptions, philosophical orientations, and theoretical and/or belief frameworks;
  • The factors that contribute to and affect the problem;
  • The complex dynamics of the problem;
  • The nature of the relationships and/or interactions;
  • The differing perspectives of the problem contexts that people hold, which can provide insights into viable solutions;
  • How possible solutions may or may not be effective.

These questions may help you with your final project.


When we think about issues involving various aspects of curriculum, scholars of curricular studies ask three fundamental questions, which are delineated below. These three questions are the starting points for digging more deeply into the assumptions and contexts that underlie educational initiatives.

  • Whose knowledge?
    • Who decides what knowledge is worth learning?
    • What biases determine what knowledge is worth learning?

This question is critical in determining the underlying agendas and biases that have lead to selecting the knowledge to be learned. An ecology or environmental science curriculum developed by people whose funding is from the petrochemical industry is most likely going to be different from a curriculum developed by people associated with Greenpeace or the Environmental Defense Fund. An elementary literacy curriculum developed by people with business backgrounds is going to be different from one developed by people with elementary school teaching backgrounds.

Always research the backgrounds, funding, and associations of the people who have actually developed specific curriculum initiatives.

  • What knowledge is worthwhile?
    • What biases determine what knowledge is worth learning? 

    • Why is certain knowledge more important or worthwhile to learn than other knowledge?
    • Why is some knowledge excluded? (points to the “null curriculum”)
    • What adds meaning and direction or purpose to experience?
    • When is certain knowledge worth learning?
    • Where is certain knowledge to be learned?
    • How is knowledge to be learned? 

The history of the United States and the influence of Christopher Columbus is treated quite differently from the perspective of the European founders than from the perspective of Native Americans. From one point of view, Columbus was a hero and courageous explorer. From another point of view, he was a violent murderer, child sex trader, and torturer. Why do we choose to teach one view over another?

If we teach about technology as the ultimate domain of knowledge for human survival and welfare, we will be doing a grave disservice to our children. Technology is certainly important, but it must be approached with caution. Technology has provided a lot for humanity, but also has created some severe problems, including massive disparities in income, global warming, ecosystem collapse, and shortages of just about every resource, including food, water, fuels, and other minerals.

All knowledge has to be placed in some context in order for it to be at all meaningful. However, we often do not consider the contexts associated with specific knowledge.

  • Who benefits from curricular decisions?
    • Who benefits from the focus of curriculum?
    • Do corporations, government and political entities, the citizens, or 
whomever else benefit from the “output” of curriculum?

From: Marshall, J. D., Sears, J. T., & Allen, L. A. (2007). Turning points in curriculum (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

If you wish – 
SEE my Blog entries for examples of how these questions can be applied to the Common Core:


  • What are contexts of the problem? What is the landscape surrounding the problem? (e.g., learning, teaching, school environment, politics, parents, administration, a specific dispute, etc.)
  • How are these problems described from different perspectives (e.g., different teachers, administrators, children, parents, general public – from the perspectives of key players)?
  • Who are the key players involved in the problem?
  • From what philosophical or theoretical frameworks (or lack thereof) is the problem coming?
  • What assumptions underlie different parts of the problem?
  • What orientations are involved in the problem?
  • What patterns are evident in this problem? How are these patterns functioning in this problem? How are these patterns interacting?


  • What is the nature of the relationships in this problem?
  • What are the double binds that arise in this problem?
  • What systems or parts of situations are involved in this problem? How are they interacting? What are the effects of these interactions?
  • What are the feedback loops? Or, what actions stimulate what kind of reactions and from where?
  • What are the different perspectives on and/or conflicting views of this problem?


  • What are the obstacles to solutions for the problem?
  • Who are the key players involved in reaching a solution?
  • What are some possible solutions to this problem?
  • Are the assumptions, orientations, and theoretical and philosophical frameworks of each possible solution internally consistent? Have conflicting assumptions, etc. been avoided?
  • Does each solution provide for flexibility? Is there “room” for transformation and change as needed?
  • Does each solution address the concerns of different perspectives?
  • What actions can be taken for working towards each possible solution?

© 2011 Jeffrey W. Bloom


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