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What Is Curriculum Theory?

By William F. Pinar

Routledge – 2004 – 320 pages

Series: Studies in Curriculum Theory Series

Purchasing Options:

  • Paperback:
    December 1st 2003
  • Hardback:
    January 1st 2004


This primer for teachers (prospective and practicing) asks students to question the historical present and their relation to it, and in so doing, to construct their own understandings of what it means to teach, to study, to become "educated." Curriculum theory is presented as the interdisciplinary study of educational experience. The mentral concept of curriculum studies as a "complicated conversation" is explored.

Within this framework, Pinar offers a compelling interpretation of contemporary "school reform" policies and practices, and an explication of curriculum theory's power to bring forth understanding, resistance, and change. His argument is this: Public education today is dominated by a conservative agenda based on a business model of education focused on the "bottom line" (test scores). The origins of this agenda go back to the 1950s, when gendered anxieties over the Cold War and racialized anxieties over school desegregation coded public education (not for the first time) as "feminized" and "black." The nature of many politicians' and some parents' criticisms of public education is intelligible only as a recoding of these gendered and racialized anxieties, deferred and displaced from their originating events onto "school reform." This has rendered the classroom a privatized and racialized domestic sphere which politicians--mostly (white) men--endeavor to control, disguised by apparently commonsense claims of "accountability." What is dangerously at stake is academic freedom and control of the curriculum--what teachers are permitted to teach, what children are permitted to study.

This text offers both an understanding of the problem and a way to address it. Pinar uses the concept of currere--the Latin infinitive of curriculum--to describe an autobiographical method that provides a strategy for self-study, a way for both individuals and groups to understand their situations, leading to action. Through currere, it is possible for educators to begin to reconstruct the public sphere--now a "shopping mall" in which citizens and students have been reduced to consumers--by connecting academic knowledge to their students (and their own) subjectivities, to society, and to the historical moment. In doing so, they can take back (relative) intellectual freedom and rebuild schooling to speak to persisting problems of race, class, and gender. It is this link, this promise of education for our private-and-public lives as Americans, that curriculum theory enables.

Comprehensive and ground-breaking, What Is Curriculum Theory? is indispensable for scholars and students worldwide across the fields of curriculum studies, foundations of education, educational policy, school reform, and teacher education.


"This is not a book for the faint-hearted. As is draws from the work of many established authors across disciplines including computing science, philosophy, anthropology, sociology, history and education, the work synthesises complex theorising and discourse which will challenge many readers. It is a necessary and complicated conversation that is quite critically optimistic."

British Journal of Educational Technology


Contents: Preface. Introduction. Part I: The Nightmare That Is the Present. The Miseducation of the American Public. Autobiography: A Revolutionary Act. Part II: The Regressive Moment: The Past in the Present. The Primal Scene: "Mortal Educational Combat." The Significance of the South. Part III: The Progressive Moment: The Future in the Present. The Evaporation of the Ego and the Subjectivity of Cyberculture. "Sex Times Technology Equals the Future." Part IV: The Analytic Moment: Anti-Intellectualism and Complicated Conversation. "Something Sound and Important": Interdisciplinarity, Erudition, Self-Reflexivity, Intellectuality. "Possibly Being So": Curriculum as Complicated Conversation. Part V: The Synthetical Moment: Self-Mobilization and Social Reconstruction. Reconstructing the Private and Public Spheres in Curriculum and Teaching. The Education of the American Public. Appendix:Curriculum Studies Journals, Organizations, and Conferences.

Name: What Is Curriculum Theory? (eBook)Routledge 
Description: By William F. Pinar. This primer for teachers (prospective and practicing) asks students to question the historical present and their relation to it, and in so doing, to construct their own understandings of what it means to teach, to study, to become "educated."...
Categories: Primary/Elementary Education, Sociology of Education