Three UKZN academics are among 17 national and international scholars who have contributed to a book: Disrupting Higher Education Curriculum: Undoing Cognitive Damage (Sense Publishers, 2016), which aims to ‘develop an alternative discourse to understand Higher Education curriculum transformation in its multiple facets and formations’.
The three are education specialists, Professor Michael Samuel, Professor Nyna Amin and Dr Rubby Dhunpath, who is UKZN’s Director of Teaching and Learning.
Giving background, Dhunpath lamented that to date the ‘furious and sometimes frivolous higher education policy process has been accompanied by a range of regulatory institutions, systems and frameworks. Despite these grandiose installations, the Higher Education sector lacks systemic coherence, characterised by curriculum tinkering which has not provided a foundation to escape our past or to refashion a viable future devoid of violence and intolerance’.
He said the recent dominant narrative in Higher Education transformation, encapsulated in the violent resistance to western and colonial symbols in institutions, appeared to detract from the more fundamental crisis of indolence and ‘our failure to confront the real challenge of an alienating, unresponsive curriculum’.
Samuel indicated that the book, conceived in response to the calls to ‘envision an alternative emancipatory curriculum, explores the historical, ideological, philosophical and theoretical domains of Higher Education curricula, past and present’.
He suggests that while the book does not presume to offer curriculum solutions and recipes, ‘it contemplates the project of undoing cognitive damage, offering glimpses into what it means to redesign curriculum in the 21st century.
‘The contributors - international scholars and emergent and expert researchers from different nationalities, orientations and positions - constitute an interdisciplinary ensemble, which collectively provides a rich commentary on Higher Education curriculum as we know it,’ said Samuel.
‘The edited volume is a catalytic vehicle for transformational thinking about disrupting canonised rituals of Higher Education practice.
Amin says the inspiration for the book is from Gayatri Spivak’s notion of cognitive damage, which encapsulates the ways in which individuals, both privileged and maligned, become complicit in their own subjugation and subjugation of others as they enact obedience, capitulation and servitude to organs of power.
Cognitive damage, the authors argue, is perpetuated by universities through indifference and insensitivity to pervasive symbolic violence, race categorisation, gender inequality, poverty, rising unemployment and cultural hegemony all of which are the overt and hidden pillars of curriculum.
Amin says the book pulls together conceptually from discourse, representation, ideology and hegemony.
The authors argue that distorted realities and fractured rationalities allow cognitive damage to persist and entrench, individually, and structurally, through knowledge domains and practices.
Comprising three overlapping sections, the book engenders a vocabulary with which to talk about cognitive damage and the Higher Education curriculum.
Part One, “Philosophical Musings”, explores the ways discourse, social structures, distributions of knowledge and power are implicated in producing cognitive damage in education curricula.
Part Two, “Curriculum Shifts”, offers insights into varied classroom environments and explores how emancipatory curriculum changes are enabled and constrained within education curriculum spaces. It also explores the notion of curriculum beyond the classroom, as well as ways in which space and spatiality communicate a value-laden curriculum.
Part Three, “(Mis) Direction?”, offers the first steps into developing a borderless curriculum. Instead of conceiving curriculum simplistically as legitimated bodies of knowledge, a curriculum without borders is contemplated to activate systemic reform where uncertainty is valued for curriculum theorising and design.
Curriculum, the editors contend, should transcend the narrow prescripts of content and pedagogy and should also expose the institutional conditions that support or inhibit intellectual labour.
The editors hope the book will stimulate debates about the crucial intellectual project of re-envisioning curriculum as ‘we enter a critical, even dangerous, period of ideological warfare being waged on university campuses. Through our damaged lenses, clouded with murky thinking, out of sync with the aspirations of contemporary youth, we have to reflect candidly on whether we have grasped fully the underlying motivations for the incessant attacks on Higher Education.
‘As curriculum designers, we need to consider whether we are attuned to a pedagogy of listening: of being sensitive to the pernicious effects of state technologies acting as agents of instrumentalism, but to also acknowledge that students may be similarly seduced by simplistic econometric and individualistic rationalities in their demands for a new order.’