Decanonizing the Field

by João M. Paraskeva (Volume editor) Shirley Steinberg (Volume editor)
Textbook XII, 731 Pages
Series: Counterpoints, Volume 491


Curriculum: Decanonizing the Field is a fresh and innovative collection that is concerned with the totalitarian Western Eurocentric cult that has dominated the field of curriculum studies. Contributors to this volume challenge dominant and counter-dominant curriculum positions of the Western Eurocentric epistemic platform. At a time when the field laudably claims internationalization as a must, arguments presented in this volume prove that this «internationalization» is nothing more than the new Western expansionism, one that dominates all other cultures, economies and knowledges. Curriculum: Decanonizing the Field is a clarion call against curriculum epistemicides, proposing the use of Itinerant Curriculum Theory (ICT), which opens up the canon of knowledge; challenges and destroys the coloniality of power, knowledge and being; and transforms the very idea and practice of power. The volume is essential reading for anyone involved in one of the most important battles for curriculum relevance – the fact that there is no social justice without cognitive justice.

Table Of Content

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Preface: Against Canonphobia. Curriculum as Political
  • Acknowledgments
  • Part I. The Curriculum Field
  • Chapter 1. Opening up Curriculum Canon to Democratize Democracy
  • Chapter 2. Dewey and the Herbartians: The Genesis of a Theory of Curriculum
  • Chapter 3. The Discursive Roots of Community: A Genealogy of the Curriculum
  • Chapter 4. A Marxian and Radical Reconstructionist Critique of American Education: Searching Out Black Voices
  • Chapter 5. Arresting the Decline of Integrity in Curriculum Studies in the United States: The Policy of Opportunity
  • Chapter 6. Undoing Double Binds in Curriculum: On Cosmopolitan Sensibilities in U.S. Curriculum Studies
  • Chapter 7. In Search of the Lost Curriculum
  • Part II. The Political and the Power of the Personal
  • Chapter 8. Dialectics and the Development of Curriculum Theory
  • Chapter 9. Autobiography and an Architecture of Self
  • Chapter 10. Subject Matters? Curriculum History, the Legitimation of Scientific Objects, and the Analysis of the Invisible
  • Chapter 11. Curriculum Theory, Education Policy, and “The Recurring Question of the Subject”
  • Chapter 12. Poststructuralism in Curriculum Policies in Brazil
  • Part III. Curriculum Inquiry: Re-Thinking/De-Canon the Canon
  • Chapter 13. Epistemicides: Toward an Itinerant Curriculum Theory
  • Chapter 14. Revisiting the Question of the “Indigenous”
  • Chapter 15. Renegotiating Epistemic Privilege and Enchantments with Modernity: The Gain in the Loss of the Entitlement to Control and Define Everything
  • Chapter 16. Curriculum Inheritance: The Field, the Canon, and the Crisis of the Postmodern University
  • Chapter 17. Canons as Neocolonial Projects of Understanding
  • Part IV. The Dynamics of Ideological Production
  • Chapter 18. Ideology and Methodological Attitude
  • Chapter 19. The Voices of Women in Curriculum Tensions
  • Chapter 20. Revisionist Ontology and the Historical Trajectory of Black Curriculum
  • Chapter 21. The New Terms of Race in Light of Neoliberalism and the Transforming Contexts of Education and the City in the Era of Globalization
  • Chapter 22. Early Education as a Gendered Construction
  • Chapter 23. The Cape Verdean Language and Identity Question: Pride, Politics of Negation, or Willful Ignorance?
  • Chapter 24. Globalization: The Lodestone Rock to Curriculum
  • Part V. Curriculum (Counter)Discourses
  • Chapter 25. Intercultural Curriculum in Neonationalist Europe: Between Neonationalism and Austerity
  • Chapter 26. The Intercultural Curriculum: Networks and Global Communities for Collaborative Learning
  • Chapter 27. Curriculum as Discourse: From Africa to South Africa and Back
  • Chapter 28. Curriculum, Nuyorican Memoirs, and the Improvisation of Identity: From What to Make of “Them” to How “Them” Might Make Themselves
  • Chapter 29. Under the Gaze of Neoliberal Epistemology: Dislocating the National Curriculum and Re-Engineering the Citizen
  • Chapter 30. Voices of the Curriculum to the South of Latin America: The Subject, the History, and the Politics
  • Part VI. Teacher Education, Narratives, and Social Justice
  • Chapter 31. The Curriculum and the Classroom
  • Chapter 32. “Who” Is Teacher Education? Approaching the Negative Stereotypes of Teacher Education
  • Chapter 33. Curriculum, Didaktik, and Professional Teaching: Conceptual Contributions from the Intersections of Curriculum Studies in an Age of “Crisis” in Education
  • Chapter 34. Counteracting the Power of the Single Story in Teacher Education: Teacher Narratives as Lions’ Voices
  • Chapter 35. Exploding the Canon: Historical Contextualizing as a Means for Social Justice
  • Chapter 36. Toward Academic Decolonization in Critical Curriculum Studies: Learning from the Japanese History Textbook Controversy over “Comfort Women”
  • Afterword : Curriculum? Tentative, at Best. Canon? Ain’t No Such Thing
  • Contributors
  • Series index

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Against Canonphobia. Curriculum as Political

William M. Reynolds

What’s going on in education around the world is part of what I oftentimes called a recovery movement. A recovery of dominant power; whether it be colonial power with new forms of colonialism; whether it be gendered power with new forms of patriarchy; racial power with new forms of the recovery of white supremacy; whether it be class power with new forms of class elitism and of global Empire that exist and unfortunately no matter where I go now, Education plays the role of helping to support that empirical behemoth.

—Kincheloe, 2007

Instead, we are told—not surprisingly by the knowledge fund reformers and billionaire gurus – that schooling is about the production of trained workers; memorization is more important than critical thinking; standardized testing is better than teaching students to be self-reflective; and learning how to read texts critically is not as important as memorizing discrete bodies of allegedly factual knowledge.

—Giroux, 2012

We are living in dark times for education/schooling and the world. Democracy (United States’ style) is spread around the world at the point of a gun or from the ever-present targeted space of drones. Take our democracy or else. Fear dominates the landscape. Populations are willing to trade their freedom(s) for a false sense of security. Drones, security cameras, iPhone tracking, and advance imaging technology at airports all promise us security as our every ← ix | x → move is monitored. Educational institutions are monitored by cameras, metal detectors and alike. While this perpetual surveillance is in place, consumerism has become our way of life as consumption becomes the sine qua non of existence.

I was reminded recently by a colleague, who introduced a recent presentation of mine that she thought I had been writing about curriculum as a political text for thirty years or more. After thinking about it, I realized Julie Webber was right. And, that curriculum as a political text will be the focus of this preface and why The Curriculum: Decanonizing the Field is so important to the field of curriculum studies. Paraskeva, in his introduction to this volume, discusses his notion of the “itinerant curriculum theoretical (ICT) path.” In Paraskeva’s ICT address, he maintains, the flaws are within counter-dominant perspectives. It addresses the issue of a new hipster (my word) canon replacing the old canon (particularly a western canon) (see Paraskeva, 2011).

I began studying curriculum in the early 1980s. I came from the public school classroom with degrees in English education and before coming into the world of curriculum studies had only read about developing adequate plans to teach novels, plays, poetry, writing, grammar, and on and on. It was a time of teacher-proof materials and competency testing. I was angry about the ways in which these teacher-proof materials set out a complete pre-packaged plan for teachers and how my thinking concerning curriculum was simply about developing it. Now, pre-service teachers are instructed to construct scripted lesson plans, planning out exactly what to say minute by minute in their potential classrooms and that is curriculum. This all takes place within the test-driven/teach to the test milieu. Prepackaged curriculums plans, PowerPoint presentations, objectives, lesson plans, and on and on are available for purchase. This is part of our “consuming life” (Bauman, 2007) in education. It is an important part of an anti-intellectual view of education. Corporations now determined curriculum in schools. Pearson, one of the largest publishing companies in the world, has come to dominate not only public school curriculum but with the advent of edTPA is on the way to controlling the entry into teaching through the determination of the requirements and assessment of pre-service teaching requirements. Pearson owns a significant portion of the publishing industry—publishers such as Prentice-Hall Press, Puffin Books, Penguin, Viking Press, Addison-Wesley, Adobe Press, Allyn & Bacon, Cisco Press, Early Learning, Longman, Scott Foresman, and many others (see Job, 2014). Pearson has mounted the corporate takeover of education and teacher education. The company not only dominates the publishing ← x | xi → industry but the lucrative testing market as well. Pearson is the major corporate force determining not only what textbooks are available, but the requirements for pre-service teachers. All of their influence translates into marketable products to be consumed.

When I began studying and working during the reconceptualization, that phenomenon was for me an actual intellectual/life-changing experience. Now for educators immersed in contemporary schooling understanding, The Curriculum should likewise be an awaking. For those trying to understand curriculum in the 21st century, the field can seem overwhelming. Terms swirl about. Reconceptualization, post-reconceptualization, cosmopolitanism, internationalization, post-structuralism, and canonization are all terms that are encountered in the curriculum studies field. These are terms not in the current jargon of testing, accountability, assessment and standardization. They are discussed in the pages that follow and that is a significant contribution. Enhanced understanding(s) of curriculum can lead to enhanced understandings of ourselves and the world around us, which leads us to question the taken-for-granted.

Scholar/teachers as intellectuals investigating curriculum studies need to have a global historical understanding of the curriculum field. That historical understanding needs to not only be about the field since the reconceptualization in the 1980s, but to become an understanding that looks at the global “struggle” (Kliebard, 2004) over the curriculum since the field emerged. The Curriculum has ample examples of essays engaged with that historical understanding. As Pinar (2004) indicated, “in our time, to be intellectual requires political activism” (p. 10).


Giroux, H.A. (2012). Education and the crisis of public values: Challenging the assault on teachers, students & public education. New York: Peter Lang.

Job, J. (2011, November). The Pearson monopoly. [Web log comment]. Retrieved from http://teacherblog.typepad.com/newteacher/2012/11/on-the-rise-of-pearson-oh-and-following-the-money.html.

Kincheloe, J. (2007). Address for the Paulo Freire and Nita Freire International Project for Critical Pedagogy. Address at 150th Anniversary of the Faculty of Education at McGill University, Montreal, QC, Canada.

Kliebard, H.M. (2004). The struggle for the American curriculum 1893–1958 (3rd ed.). New York: RoutledgeFalmer.

Pinar, W.F., Reynolds, W.M., Slattery, P., & Taubman, P.M. (2006). Understanding curriculum: An introduction to the study of historical and contemporary discourses. New York: Peter Lang. ← xi | xii →

Paraskeva, João (2011). Conflicts in Curriculum Theory. Challenging Hegemonic Epistemologies. New York: Palgrave.

Pinar, W.F. (2004). What is curriculum theory? Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Reynolds, W.M., & Webber, J.A. (2004). Expanding curriculum theory: Dis/positions and lines of flight. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

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The following chapters have been reprinted by permission.

Chapter 2. “Dewey and the Herbartians: The Genesis of a Theory of Curriculum” by Herbert Kliebard in Pinar, William (ed.), Contemporary Curriculum Discourses: Twenty Years of JCT (pp. 68–80). New York: Peter Lang. Chapter 8. “Dialectics and the Development of Curriculum Theory” by Henry Giroux in Pinar, William (ed.), Contemporary Curriculum Discourses: Twenty Years of JCT (pp. 7–23). New York: Peter Lang. Chapter 9. “Autobiography and an Architecture of Self” by William Pinar in Pinar, William, Autobiography, Politics and Sexuality: Essays in Curriculum Theory, 1972–1992. New York: Peter Lang. Chapter 14. “Revisiting the Question of the ‘Indigenous’” by George J. Sefa Dei in Dei, George Sefa (ed.), Indigenous Philosphies and Critical Education. A Critical Reader (pp. 21–33). New York: Peter Lang. Chapter 18. “Ideology and Methodological Attitude” by Patti Lather in Pinar, William (ed.), Contemporary Curriculum Discourses: Twenty Years of JCT (pp. 246–261). New York: Peter Lang. Chapter 22. “Early Education as a Gendered Construction” by Shirley Steinberg in Pinar, William (ed.), Contemporary Curriculum Discourses: Twenty Years of JCT (pp. 474–480). New York: Peter Lang.

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João M. Paraskeva

Curriculum is one of the great apparatuses designed to produce and reproduce an hegemonic modern(ity) way of existing and thinking. It was undeniably one of the official apparatuses. The curriculum as we know it not only paves the way for a blind epistemology, but also it was forged within a blind epistemology to use Sousa Santos, (2001) terms. We are before a paradigm with its days numbered since its inception – despite some noteworthy achievements, let’s concede – that was “organized around a bounded discrepancy between social experience and social expectations” (Sousa Santos, 2001, p. 253). That is, the field was swimming in a paradoxical set of waves in which “seen from the perspective of social experiences, social expectations are excessive, and vice versa, seen from the perspective of social expectations social experiences are deficient” (Sousa Santos, 2001, p. 253). Curriculum engaged in a cruel philosophy of praxis, one that completely neglected that “all knowing is knowing of a certain ignorance and that all ignorance is ignorance of a certain knowing” (Sousa Santos, 2001, p. 253). The unsustainability of curriculum as a full ← 3 | 4 → blast apparatus of modernity emerged also from within, with a huge armada of radial critical scholars – swimming in a specific curriculum river – challenging curriculum’s lack of relevance (Paraskeva, 2011). Yet, it is undeniable that the struggle for relevance and for the determination of relevance (Sousa Santos, 2001, p. 255) gained a different ideological momentum, with the commitment towards an epistemology of blindness (Sousa Santos, 2001) and an overt epistemological disobedience (Mignolo, 2009) unleashed by de-colonial and Southern theories. Epistemological disobedience, Mignolo (2009) argues, implies a “political and epistemic delinking, as well as decolonializing and de-colonial knowledges, as necessary steps for imagining and building democratic, just, and non-imperial/colonial societies. Geo-politics of knowledge goes hand in hand with geo-politics of knowing” (p. 3). The de-colonial path fosters the diversity of the de-colonials (Mignolo, 2009). Let’s now pay attention to the historical wrangles in the field that determined epistemological ruptures (Sousa Santos, 2001) within and beyond modernity.

The field of curriculum studies is undeniably inexhaustible, incessantly moving forward and backward while showing the latitudinal and longitudinal borderless world of convoluted struggles. If there is a dynamic field within the copious U.S. matrix of social sciences, certainly that is the curriculum field. Since the end of the nineteenth century, the epistemological battles over “what knowledge is of most worth” and over the crucial sociopolitical function of schooling (Spencer, 1969; Kliebard, 1995; Pinar, 2004; Paraskeva, 2011) have revealed a field that looks pretty much like a complex set of tectonic plates in permanent ebullition—a multiplicity of ideological volcanoes spewing lava that smothers a myriad of epistemological impulses while simultaneously paving the way for many other perspectives—as documented in the works of scholars such as Kliebard (1995); Schubert (1980, 2003); Wraga (1994); Pinar (1975); Franklin (2000); Pinar, Reynolds, Slattery, and Taubman (1995); Watkins (1993); Paraskeva (2007, 2011); and Baker (2012), though from slightly different perspectives. For example, Kliebard’s (1995) masterpiece The Struggle for the American Curriculum mapped such epistemological impulses, highlighting the role played by the humanists, the social developmentalists, the social efficiencists, and social meliorists, who were led by Eliot, Harris, Hall, Rice, and Ward (Kliebard, 1995) in the intricate clashes over control of the field.

Schubert and Lopez’s (1980) Curriculum Books: The First Eighty Years unveils secular curriculum’s ideological and epistemological perspectives or discourses that emerged in each decade of the twentieth century—namely, the social behaviorist, intellectual traditionalist, experientialist, and critical reconstructionist. Drawing from a multitude of different epistemological terrains, the ← 4 | 5 → authors claim that each ideological perspective was indeed fighting for control of curriculum knowledge and its social function in U.S. society. That is, the social behaviorists with their empiricist cult, the intellectual traditionalists with an emphasis on the great works as the curriculum core, the experientialists with their focus on the curriculum based on vast experiences, and the critical reconstructionists with their hearts in social justice, all rub against each other. Each one tries to build the best argument possible to secure the acquiescence of the majority, thus winning the battle for a commonsensical understanding of what/whose knowledge is of most worth. Let us pause here and briefly frame—through Eliot, Harris, Hall, Rice, and Ward’s approach—how a superior cult of a particular Western episteme has been defended and legitimized since the turn of the twentieth century in the United States.

Charles W. Eliot, president of Harvard University from 1869 to 1909 and chairman of the famous Committee of Ten, fought for an educational system based on common and higher standards and uniformity between both secondary and college admission prerequisites, claiming that education for life was education for college (Paraskeva, 2007, 2011).

The Committee of Ten searched for uniformity in both “secondary school programs and in college admission prerequisites” (Eliot, 1894, p. 107; also see National Education Association, 1894). As Eliot declared, “a single common course of studies, tolerably well selected to meet the average needs, seems to most Americans a very proper and natural thing” (p. 11). The Committee of Ten proposed a curriculum matrix for secondary schooling based on four programs or courses of study that were separately designated as classical, Latin-scientific, modern languages, and English (Krug, 1964). The report “disseminated a praiseworthy educational theory which attempted to create greater complicity between the secondary school system and colleges” (Eliot, 1894). The document spurred a wide range of heated reactions (see Sizer, 1964; De Garmo, 1894). The Committee of Ten was the victim of a well-spent popular psychology that defined education merely as a preparation for the faculties of the mind (Schurman, 1894).

William Harris, while more sensitive to the need for social transformation than Eliot, and quite engaged in certain reform causes such as women’s access to higher education, showed a conservative approach as well (Paraskeva, 2007, 2011). According to Harris (1880), education should open five windows of the soul (arithmetic, geography, grammar, history, and literature)—five provinces that would remain the means by which the culture would be propagated and perpetuated to the majority of citizens. The course of study for schools and colleges should have two functions. Harris adds: ← 5 | 6 →

On the front lines of the criticism directed at the recommendations disseminated in the Report of the Committee of Ten, one could find Stanley Hall (Paraskeva, 2011), the leading figure of an emerging powerful pedagogical movement in the United States: the child study movement. Hall’s ideological take was based on the recognition of a natural order of child development that he believed should serve as the scientific platform for determining what should be taught. Hall’s child study movement is based on three major areas:

Stanley Hall was a fervent believer that it was a fallacy that all students should learn the same way and for the same period of time, learning independently of their hypothetical destiny. Hall (1904) pointed to the fallacy of uniformity, noting that there is a “great army of incapables, shading down to those who should be in schools for the dullards or subnormal children” (p. 509). Also, Hall challenged the fallacy that all subjects are of equal importance and, therefore, should be taught in the same manner, which implies an overlapping priority of form over content. Moreover, Hall also understood as a fallacy that preparation for college is essentially the same as preparation for life. In Hall’s (1901) opinion, the established educational order should be inverted so that “the college depends on the high school, and not vice versa. The latter should declare its independence, and proceed to solve its own problems in its own way” (p. 487).

In his campaign against the state of the U.S. educational system and curriculum, Joseph Rice openly attacked the public at large, the superintendents and his staff, as well as the teachers for the educational chaos. Rice (1912) stressed that the level of crisis the education system had reached forced the imposition of a “scientific system of pedagogical management [that] would demand fundamentally the measurement of results in the light of fixed standards” (p. xv). He argued further: ← 6 | 7 →

According to Rice (1912), there was a direct proportionality between time and results that should never be belittled. Such proportionality would prove to be a polemical issue because, as Rice stated, educators could not reach a consensus on the two questions that dominated schooling practice: “(1) How much time shall be devoted to a subject? and (2) What result should be accomplished?” (p. 5).

Rice proceeded with his crusade, arguing loudly for scientific management of the schools, which was marked by criteria of efficiency and efficacy, and calling attention to the difficulties permeating rational education reform. For Rice (1912), “politics in school boards, incompetent supervision, [and] insufficient preparation on the part of teachers [were not] the ultimate cause” of public indifference and obstacles to educational progress; they merely constituted “the symptoms of a much more deeply hidden disease which permits all sorts of havoc to be played with the schools” (p. 20). The nation needed a professional teacher-training program, because the “incompetence and negligence” (Rice, 1914/1969, p. 15) that permeated the teaching profession at the time was malignant.

According to Rice (1914/1969), a school subjected to unscientific or mechanical management meant that it assumed as its principal function the practice of “crowding into the memory of the child a certain number of cut-and-dried facts—that is, that the school exists simply for the purpose of giving the child a certain amount of information” (p. 20). Conversely, “the aim of the new education was to lead the child to observe, to reason, and to acquire manual dexterity, as well as to memorize facts—in a word, to develop the child naturally in all his faculties, intellectual, moral, and physical” (p. 21).

Rice (1914/1969) highlighted three general principles that underlie his theory of scientific management:

Rice, both despite and because of being associated with Herbartianism, diverged from the perspectives disseminated by Eliot and Harris and increasingly distanced himself from Hall. Rice ended up becoming the leader of the “third of the major curriculum interest groups that was to appear just before the turn of the century, the social efficiency educators” (Kliebard, 1995, p. 20). By its intention to depoliticize the education system, this social efficiency doctrine seemed to cast a common shadow with the notion of survival of the fittest, a leitmotif of Social Darwinism (Paraskeva, 2007, 2011).

At the front line of challenges to the Social Darwinist perspective was Lester F. Ward. According to Ward, “the laissez-faire position that the social Darwinists had advocated was a corruption of Darwinian theory because human beings had to develop the power to intervene intelligently, in whatever were blind forces of nature, and in that power lay the course of social progress” (Kliebard, 1995, p. 21). Ward maintained that Social Darwinists ignored “the crucial fact that with the emergence of mind the very character of evolution changes” (Cremin, 1964, p. 96), since “‘the mind is telic,’ [it] has purposes, [it] can plan [in other words, it is able to supplant] the relatively static phase of genetic evolution with a new dynamic phase” (p. 96).

In this sense, Ward (1883) maintained that “moral progress would largely depend on the intellectual direction of the forces of human nature into channels of human advantage” (p. 216). Spencer would transform his theory of knowledge evolution into a principle of curriculum (Kliebard, 1999) in which “the genesis of knowledge in the individual must follow the same course as the genesis of knowledge in the race” (p. 6). In contrast, Ward saw education as the great panacea for all social ulcers (Cremin, 1964) and believed that social progress would be achieved by the construction of a just and adequate educational system (Kliebard, 1995). Moreover, Ward (1883) maintained that social inequality was merely a reflex of the misdistribution of the social inheritance. Unlike Spencer and the Social Darwinists, Ward saw public education not as a cause of the erosion of parental responsibility but as the “only feasible device for turning evolution to the larger social good” (Cremin, 1964, p. 98).

By understanding education as a powerful instrument of social transformation, Ward distanced himself similarly from the humanist movement in general and, most particularly, from Eliot. However, it is important to note that, just like Eliot, Ward demonstrated an unwavering belief in the power of human intelligence (Paraskeva, 2011). In addition to denoting the nonexistence of class variations in the intellect, Ward (1883) characterized himself as a paladin of egalitarianism, fervently defending education as an instrument of diffusion and consolidation of social harmony. He strongly criticized the ← 8 | 9 → doctrine of the survival of the fittest and declared that the “denizens of slums are not inferior in talent to the graduates of Harvard College” (p. 290).

Undeniably, underneath each epistemological perspective was much more than just a particular political vision of a given society, but the imposition of a particular totalitarian episteme and view of epistemology, thus producing, reproducing, and legitimizing a specific Western canon—that is, a hegemonic epistemological canon, truly total, that saturates society.

However, as Kliebard (1995) insightfully claims:

Kliebard’s claim is accurate. However, looking back at the history of the field, it is possible to understand which groups’—or movements’—orientations actually did and did not occupy the leadership of the field. If there is an orientation or a group that secularly has been able to influence the field’s leadership, it is the social scientificists—sometimes so misinterpreted, as William Wraga (1994) stresses. Without denying the accuracy of such a claim, Wraga (1994) addresses Tanner and Tanner (1990) and Kliebard’s (1995) call to historians for “a periodic revisiting of the original texts of foundational documents of the curriculum field” (Wraga, 1994, p. 6). In doing so, Wraga (1994) alerts and encourages the field for a more careful examination of the famous Cardinal Principles Report, which will avoid historical and ideological misinterpretations and misrepresentations of the social efficiency curriculum tradition. That report, Wraga (1994) stresses, “made calculated use of a contemporary catchword in an effort to widen its meaning as a slogan by employing it according to its conventional definition” (p. 8). Wraga (1994) argues that while educational scholars “have misrepresented both the intent and provisions of [the Report,] educational policymakers and practitioners have overlooked the critical unifying function” (p. 13).

What is also profusely clear, both in Kliebard and Schubert’s approaches, is that progressive curricular trends, despite all the dynamism and innumerable achievements, never occupied a key position within successive alliances that were formed throughout the twentieth century for the institutionalization of a particular curricular canon. Notwithstanding, such canon has undergone countless changes and metamorphoses; its ultimate goal was always a staunch defense of a particular episteme, an epistemological canon, that cast ← 9 | 10 → and clouded the way people thought about society, and concomitantly the very social function of schools and curriculum. More to the point, what I coined in another context (Paraskeva, 2011) as the critical progressive river—a non-organized group of radical critical intellectuals—was always and continues to be in general an anti-canon, a non-canon river. The struggles for the imposition of a particular curriculum canon are closely associated with a model of capitalist society defined by its modes of production and bloody relations created by such modes of production based on exploitation and social segregation. Education in general, and curriculum in particular, need to be understood within the complex matrix of the capitalist mode of production.

Pinar’s Curriculum Theorizing (1975), an unjustifiably inconvenient approach for many scholars in the field (see Paraskeva, 2011), travels and exposes a more contemporary map related to such epistemological battles played by the traditionalists, empiricists, and reconceptualists. Pinar (1975, p. xii) overtly claims that, while the reconceptualists are a minority (comprising less than 6% of scholars in the field), their importance “for the field far exceeds their number.” Conversely, to the traditionalists and empiricists, this minority group of curriculum scholars challenged a dominant canon driven by “how-to” or practical solutions relying only on methodological tools of social sciences to produce curriculum inquiry. Despite being counter-dominant, Pinar (1975) states that

In the exhaustive, “unruly and cacophonic” exegesis Understanding Curriculum, Pinar, Reynolds, Slattery, and Taubman (1995, p. xiii) showed the complex metamorphoses both within the emergence and development of the field at the turn of the nineteenth century as well as the development of such a counter-dominant bloc, and those who became dominant, within this counter-dominant tradition. Pinar and fellow researchers (1995), through this master narrative—a “landmark contribution to the field” (Grimmet & Halvorson, 2010)—maps not only the field’s (a) creation and transformation processes, 1828–1927, (b) its crises, 1929–1969, and (c) the reconceptualization of the field, 1970–1979, but also the field’s contemporary discourses, thus bringing to the fore a major and different understanding of the curriculum as a synoptic ← 10 | 11 → text. In this regard, Pinar and collaborators (1995) judiciously unveiled curriculum as a racial, gendered, phenomenological, poststructuralist, deconstructed, postmodern, biographical, aesthetic, theological, international, and political text. Peter Grimmet and Mark Halvorson (2010), without denying the importance of Pinar and others’ (1995) work in moving the foci “away from the technical emphasis in the field, argue that a foci [should be] with[in] the life world of curriculum instead of a preoccupation with its system world” (p. 242). In such a context, Pinar and fellow researchers’ (1995) semiotic (non-)synoptic laudably flagged a strong counter-dominant movement with a multiplicity of perspectives, challenging the dominant secular curriculum canon based on a particular Western epistemological view, thus framing the production, reproduction, and transformation of knowledge—and its ideological, political, and cultural circuits—as well as what counts as official in a consciously selective way. In this struggle, one cannot deny the crucial role played by African American intellectuals so well documented and examined by scholars such as William Watkins, as well as the so-called romantic critics, the Civil Rights Movement, and the student revolts.

Watkins (1993) insightfully brings to the fore what he calls a preliminary approach to his insightful “Black Curriculum Orientations,” inserting such orientations within and with profoundly leading roles in the struggle for the U.S. curriculum field. As Watkins (1993) reveals, such overlapping orientations—that is, the functionalist, accommodationist, liberal, social reconstructionist, Afrocentrist, and Black nationalist—need to be seen as an integral part of Black curriculum theorizing impulses intractably connected with the experience of Black communities in the United States. It is impossible to fully grasp the political economy of U.S. education without a clear understanding of “slavery’s contribution to the emergence of America’s rise to world power” (Watkins, 2001, p. 12).

Also, “the romantic critics brought a breath of fresh air to society in general and to the education field in particular by exposing a combination of radical positions and solutions” (Paraskeva, 2011, p. 102). It is actually impossible, as I (2011) and others (Apple, 2000; Ayers, 1992) have noted, “to understand the period of the middle 1960s without reading Herb Kohl, Jonathan Kozol, Jules Henry, Paul Goodman—people known as the romantic critics” (p. 102). In addition, I emphasized in a previous volume (2011) the role played by the Civil Rights Movement within the course of U.S. curricular history. The Civil Rights Movement’s struggle for a just society “cannot be separated from the long tradition of social struggles in the United States—for example, against a ← 11 | 12 → eugenic society or a segregated education system—that were led by W.E.B. Du Bois, Sojourner Truth, Booker T. Washington, Frederick Douglass, and many others” (Paraskeva, 2011, p. 98). I also added that

This chain of unstoppable political events, led by the so-called “counterculture intellectuals” (cf. Schubert, 2008, p. 405) such as the romantic critics and, one must add, the Civil Rights intellectuals and student leaders, rattled the nation. On June 19, 1964, just 7 months after President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, Congress approved what would be known as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which had a huge impact on education and curriculum in the United States.

The social instability expressed in the revolts by the Civil Rights Movement and by students and in the powerful criticism of various sectors of U.S. society led certain defenders of the disciplinary doctrine to reconsider some of their stances. Phenix and Schwab, great theorists of knowledge on this subject, significantly altered their positions in response to the student movement of the 1960s. Phenix (1969) saw that a curriculum approach fundamentally driven by the subjects could lead to a fragmentation of the curriculum that would be insensitive to certain societal issues. Despite holding curriculum notions similar to those of Tyler (see Schwab, 1970), after considering the issues of the student movement, Schwab (1969) noted that “our students are man and woman without a country” (p. 41). He added that “students are almost entirely deprived of proper curriculum occasions, especially sufficiently early occasions, for discovery, assay, and exercise of their competences with respect to form and structure, coherence and cogency, evidence and argument, recovery and formulation of meaning” (p. 40). The notion of change was gaining ground, and “the big mistake most schools have made is in showing reluctance to meet the child in his home territory” (Fantini & Weinstein, 1969, p. 6). In fact, education needed to become more appropriate for the disadvantaged, and “the educator’s commitment is to produce thinking, well-informed, healthy, happy democratic American citizens” (Crary, 1969, p. 5; Metcalf & Hunt, 1970). ← 12 | 13 →

In my examination of the history of the field in Conflicts in Curriculum Theory (2011), I also examined and emphasized the importance and accuracy of such multifarious approaches but respectfully tried to move beyond them. In this particular respect, my aim was/is threefold: first, to bring to the fore the importance of movements such as the romantic critics, the Civil Rights Movement, and the student revolts in the complex struggle for the U.S. curriculum; second, to unveil the needs, limitations, and challenges of a particular critical progressive curriculum river in the struggle against the dominant tradition that has been able to impose and maintain a particular curriculum canon; and third, to denounce how curriculum has been secularly engaged in what I called curriculum epistemicides, and to call for the opening of the canon of knowledge.

The work of intellectuals such as Greene, Apple, Giroux, Pinar, and others needs to be understood in this context—that is, a context that made the curriculum’s lack of relevance one of the leitmotifs of these scholars in the struggle for a more just society. In fact,

For them, it was the fundamental issue in the complex struggle for social justice and equality (Wexler, 1976). On the front lines of educational reform in the 1970s and 1980s, critics were claiming the need for a political reading of education in general and the curriculum in particular. They were also challenging the non-polluted curriculum perspective and its social relevance. One cannot minimize the influence of Huebner, Macdonald, Apple, Giroux, Freire, Wexler, Pinar, and McLaren, who themselves were strongly influenced, albeit in different ways, by complex epistemological zones such as analytical philosophy, symbolic interactionism, hermeneutics, phenomenology, critical theory, poststructuralism, literary criticism, and (neo-)Marxism, and by the developments emerging from what would be coined the new sociology of education/curriculum and the works of Willis, Bernstein, Young, Dale, and Whitty, among others (Paraskeva, 2011). They were able to bring to the fore towering concepts that would reshape the field: ideology, hegemony, common sense, hidden curriculum, power, reproduction, resistance, transformation, emancipation, class, gender, and race, among others (Paraskeva, 2011). ← 13 | 14 →

Looking at the front line of the counter-dominant political realm that challenged the curriculum canon, one must highlight Apple and Giroux’s approaches. Despite fiery tension within the counter-dominant armada, Pinar and colleagues (1995) stated:

However, these are not similar approaches. According to Aronowitz (1981), Giroux was able to go “further than many of his contemporaries such as Apple and Willis who grasp the contradictory character of schooling but have not conceptualized the moment when the classroom becomes open to change” (p. 3). Thus, we confront two different approaches and arguably distinct political projects. One needs to see such differences, upgrades, and detours as part of the critical history of the field. While Apple and Giroux target the same issues, they actually end up showing different ways to understand them, and, in so doing, they end up edifying distinct yet powerful curriculum approaches (Paraskeva, 2011). Although each in his own way was able to semantically stretch particular critical pedagogy insights to the limit, it seems that Giroux pioneered the will to play and explore new poststructural and postmodern perspectives (cf. Apple, 2010; Giroux, 1981).

Having as its epicenter the theme of conflict and struggle for schools and curriculum relevance, a number of critical theorists restructure the question formulated by Spencer, complexifying it but also making it more just (Paraskeva, 2011). Apple, for example, asks not what knowledge is of the most worth, but whose knowledge is of the most worth. In other words, the predominant issue is not knowledge itself but precisely whose knowledge. Whose vision does it represent? Who benefits? Faced with a school system that can be framed, as Giroux (1981) claims, as a social construct that serves to mystify rather than illuminate reality, one cannot deny the importance of challenging meaningless curricula (Paraskeva, 2011). In short, what is at stake, and always ← 14 | 15 → has been, is knowledge (selected, diffused, and evaluated)—a particular canon that has been failing the majority by its lack of social relevance.

However, some of these educators faced severe criticism from both conservative and progressive liberal platforms. The more severe and devastatingly heated debates occurred precisely within the very marrow of so-called progressive liberal and critical platforms. In different ways, Apple, Giroux, and Freire were not able to avoid straightforward, incisive criticism from Bowers, Wexler, Ellsworth, and also Pinar. As I was able to reveal extensively in another context (Paraskeva, 2011), particular radical and critical curriculum approaches have been under fire from some critical scholars frustrated with puzzling and unacceptable silences within the critical progressive curriculum river. Critical pedagogical theories not only exhibited an explicit functionalist approach, ignoring vital empirical research (see Liston, 1988; Paraskeva, 2011); they also showed a reactionary impulse—that is, particular concepts of critical pedagogy, such as empowerment, student voice, dialogue, and even the term “critical,” are representative myths that perpetuate relations of domination (see Ellsworth, 1989; Paraskeva, 2011). Paradoxically, despite the fact that particular radical critical neo-Marxist approaches were criticizing functionalist dominant and counter-dominant traditions, the reality is that they relied precisely on a functionalist approach (Paraskeva, 2011).

I am not claiming here that critical pedagogical theories had an inconsequential impact on the field. Also, one cannot undermine the critique that radical and critical pedagogical theories faced from within, which aimed to eliminate the profound transformative influence that critical perspectives had on the lives of millions of individuals from all over the world. In fact, this critique of particular radical and critical pedagogical theories laudably also emerges from within: an evolving process of self-conscious critique to address enigmatic silences in order to help better understand the educational complex. As Quantz (2011) claims, there is no such thing as perfect theory or plus que parfait theory. It is interesting to note, though, that it was through the struggle against a specific curriculum canon that a huge crater opened within the counter-dominant tradition in which one particular group was blamed not precisely for its inconsequence in interrupting and destroying the dominant curriculum canon, but precisely for inadvertently building a sort of anti-canon canon.

As I mentioned in Conflicts in Curriculum Theory (Paraskeva, 2011), such claims and counterclaims deserve a properly deep and detailed analysis. Although sensitive to the limitations and challenges of radical critical ← 15 | 16 → pedagogical approaches before an ever-more-complex global reality that is flooded with poverty and inequality like never before, critical scholars engaged in addressing such intricacies. In doing so, not only did they end up reinforcing the role of radical critical pedagogical approaches; they also made it a stronger platform for challenging the current neoliberal curriculum canon. In the frontline of such forces, one should highlight, for example, the approaches of Giroux, Pinar, and McLaren, as well as a particular group of decolonial and Southern theorists who were profoundly engaged in the complex process of addressing the Freirean question of “reinventing critical pedagogy.” In fact, the struggle for social relevance and social justice needs to be pushed into a struggle for cognitive justice—one of the great leitmotifs of the decolonial and Southern path.

At a time when the field laudably claims internationalization as a must, it is impossible to try to produce an internationalization that would look like Western expansionism within what I would call the fourth hegemonic period of capitalism (see Arrighi, 2005)—that is, an internationalism that in internationalizing the West (or a very particular West) wipes out (or attempts to wipe out) all other cultures, economies, and knowledges. This is unacceptable. And it is not a minor issue, as the concerns of many Western scholars testify. Pinar (2000) did not mince words when he addressed the LSU conference on the Internationalization of Curriculum Studies:

Biographical notes

João M. Paraskeva (Volume editor) Shirley Steinberg (Volume editor)

João M. Paraskeva is Full Professor at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, where he is founder and Chair of the Department of Educational Leadership and Program Director of the EdD/PhD in Educational Leadership and Policy. He is also Director for the Center for Portuguese Studies and Culture at Umass Dartmouth. His latest books are Transformative Educators and Researchers for Democracy: Dartmouth Dialogues (co-edited with Thad LaVallee, 2015), International Critical Pedagogy Reader (co-edited with Antonia Darder and Peter Mayo, 2015) and Conflicts in Curriculum Theory: Challenging Hegemonic Epistemologies: Education, Politics and Public Life (2011/2014). Shirley R. Steinberg is Research Professor of Youth Studies at the University of Calgary and the Director of the Institute of Youth and Community Research at the University of the West of Scotland. She is a prolific author and international speaker, and was recently awarded lifetime achievement awards for Social Justice from Chapman University and from the International Conference on Critical Media Literacy.


Title: Curriculum