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Knowledge, Control and Critical Thinking in Singapore


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Table of Contents

1. Beyond Abstraction: The Social and Political Contexts of Teaching Critical Thinking 2. Competencies and Consciousnesses: Mapping the Politics of the Curriculum through the Pedagogic Device 3. The Arbitrariness of Knowledge Fields: Critical Thinking and its Social Logic 4. Critical Thinking and the Singapore State: Meritocracy, Illiberalism and Neoliberalism 5. Profane Knowledge and Instrumental Rationality: Recontextualizing Critical Thinking in a Mainstream School 6. Sacred Knowledge and Elite Dispositions: Recontextualizing Critical Thinking in an Elite School 7. Power, Knowledge and Symbolic Control: Official Pedagogic Identities and the Politics of Recontextualization

About the Author

Leonel Lim is Assistant Professor at the Curriculum, Teaching and Learning Academic Group, National Institute of Education, Singapore. His research focuses on the sociology of curriculum, the politics of education, state power, and elite schooling. In 2014 he was the recipient of the American Educational Research Association's Outstanding Dissertation Award in curriculum studies. His current projects include an edited volume (with Michael W. Apple) on the politics of curriculum reform in strong states in Asia (Routledge).


Leonel Lim's Knowledge, Control and Critical Thinking in Singapore is a timely intervention in the now buoyant accumulation of educational writing on curriculum reform through critical thinking. Singapore, after all, has become the idealized and paradigmatic model of education reform and achievement for educational systems across the globe. Lim's book reminds us, however, that even the most innovative and ameliorative discourses in education must be materially grounded and evaluated in the light of real-existing conditions and experiences for social subjects in the school setting. In this novel text, Lim puts on display tremendous theoretical gifts grounded in Bernsteinian and Bourdieuian understandings of the stratified-status value attached to curriculum knowledge. Lim's research focus is on the role of high-status knowledge in the elaboration of class formation and post-developmental state initiatives linked to the parable of modernization in Singapore. Lim writes with a distinctive voice. And, Knowledge, Control and Critical Thinking in Singapore is an elegant deployment of Bernsteinian analysis to the post-developmental context of education. Empirically grounding theoretical claims in a comparative case study of the official national curriculum with the lived curriculum that is actually enacted in schools attended by Singapore's elite youth and those attended by students who are considerably less advantaged, this brilliant volume sheds light on the consequences of the technocratic curriculum goals of an interventionist, post-developmental state. It trenchantly calls attention to the real-existing opportunity costs for less advantaged youngsters and to the limits of innovative programs under the neoliberal post-developmental paradigm that guides Singapore. It should be required reading for contemporary students of curriculum studies wherever they are. - Cameron McCarthy, University Scholar and Hardie Fellow, Institute of Communications Research, University of Illinois

The performance of Asian nations, such as Singapore and China, in international test league tables has captured the imagination of educational sociologists around the world. In this magnificent book, Lim explores how critical thinking curriculum is incorporated into the official discourses of the Singapore Ministry of Education and differentially distributed to students attending elite and less advantaged schools. Lim's contribution to the sociology of education is threefold. First, he advances work in curriculum studies by extrapolating and applying the sociological theories of Basil Bernstein to a study of curriculum production, recontextualisation, and enactment. Second, he advances work in pedagogic governance by exploring the ways in which the state in Singapore simultaneously juxtaposes illiberal, neoliberal and meritocratic discourses to govern whole populations through pedagogic means. Thirdly, he advances research in critical scholarship by exploring both the substantive content and procedural, process aspects of critical thinking and how critical thinking curriculum is pedagogised in schooling systems. - Parlo Singh, Professor of Education, Griffith Institute for Educational Research, Griffith University

Lim is to be commended for his brave attempt to extend Bernstein's theory of codes to the study of the relationships between power relations, official and implemented curricula, and pedagogic interactions and identities within an illiberal state such as Singapore. His book will be crucial reading for scholars in curriculum theory and education reform. - Jason Tan, Policy & Leadership Studies, National Institute of Education, Singapore

'The book's exegesis of Bernstein's theory is first-rate. All students and scholars frustrated by Bernstein's obscure and difficult texts will find Lim's clear and insightful theoretical explications useful.' - Ting-Hong Wong, Associate Research Fellow, Sociology Institute, Academia Sinica, Taiwan

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