Home Articles Reader Opinion Editorial Book Reviews Discussion Writers Guide About TCRecord
transparent 13

The Curriculum Studies Reader (2nd Edition)

reviewed by Anju Jolly - 2005

coverTitle: The Curriculum Studies Reader (2nd Edition)
Author(s): David J. Flinders and Stephen J. Thornton (Editors)
Publisher: Routledge/Falmer, New York
ISBN: 0415945232, Pages: 355, Year: 2004
Search for book at Amazon.com

At every stage in our history, curriculum theory has been driven by this ultimate goal: Determine what knowledge is important in schools and find the most effective way to teach it. For a serious student of curriculum study, the challenge lies in understanding the intellectual, social, moral, and political foundations of education while at the same time considering the interactions between different perspectives and paradigms that have shaped our curriculum for the past century. Stephen Thornton and David Flinders have met that challenge in the second edition of The Curriculum Studies Reader.


This book is a sterling collection of original writings on curriculum by distinguished educators and philosophers of education. Covering a span of 100 years, the book is divided into four periods, each organized chronologically around paradigms in conflict at the time. Each section opens with a preamble narrative in which the editors provide the background necessary to understand the key ideas and arguments of the time. A notable selection of articles then follows.

Part I lays the historic foundations of education as set in the early twentieth century. The curriculum at that time reflected the period of educational firmament. On one end of the spectrum, scientific methods of research and industrialism were giving rise to the ideas of social efficiency. On the other end, the influence of psychology and the child study movement were leading to progressivism. Franklin Bobbitt and John Dewey captured these opposing perspectives in their essays. In the first chapter here, chapter 1 of Bobbitt’s famous Scientific Method in Curriculum Making, creating a curriculum is described as a systematic activity. To Bobbitt, the role of a curriculum is to dispassionately analyze what is needed for learners to prepare for vocational life or civic life, then create direct, purposeful goals and activities to train students so that they achieve those objectives. Influenced by the behaviorist movement of the time, Bobbitt also advocated the organized and planned mode of management that some refer to as the machine theory or the cult of efficiency (Orenstein & Hunkins 2004).

Dewey’s “My Pedagogic Creed” is the next chapter in the sequence and presents a contrast with Bobbitt’s work. Dewey described curriculum as an experience-oriented and child-centered activity, not a subject-centered one. To Dewey, education was a social process of living life itself and not preparation for some future life. Although he was well aware of education’s vocational purpose and the need for organization in a curriculum, he still viewed the scientific curriculum as perpetuating the social political order. The chapter provides just a taste of Dewey’s argument but is an adequate summary of his ideas on curriculum development.

In the 1930s, while the progressive movement of Dewey was at its height, some progressives argued that progressivism placed too much emphasis on the child and lost sight of the greater needs of society (Orenstein & Hunkins, 2004). These new reconstructionists were dissatisfied with the inequality between the lower economic classes and the upper business classes, which created a social hierarchy. They wanted schools, instead of perpetuating a culture of social disparity, to serve as agents of change to build a more equal social order. George Count’s chapter, “Dare the School Build a Social Order?” is an excellent selection that thoroughly communicates these reconstructionist ideas.

The next chapter, Herbert Klieberd’s well-known essay “Rise of the Scientific Curriculum,” connects these ideas to modern curriculum by clearly pointing out the lasting influence of Bobbitt’s scientific curriculum on today’s classrooms. The last chapter in part I, “The Public School and the Immigrant Child,” by Jane Addams, communicates the importance of incorporating cultural sensitivity into the curriculum but seems a departure from the discussion of the other four chapters in part I.

Part II focuses on the reform efforts of the 1950s and 1960s. What should be taught was one of the main areas of inquiry at that time. The section opens with the first chapter from Ralph Tyler’s book Basic Principles of Curriculum and Instruction, in which Tyler synthesized the ideas of Bobbitt, W. W. Charter, Dewey, and others by dividing curriculum development into categories of purpose, learning experiences, organization, and evaluation. This organization of curriculum provided the schools with a convenient managerial plan for educating the masses and became the standard plan of operation as we see it today. Unfortunately, this gave rise to the cookbook approach to curriculum, in which teaching with efficiency became an obsession (Schubert, 1986). Voices from the left criticized this calculated managerial approach. Chapters by W. James Popham, Elliot Eisner, and Philip Jackson convey that opposing view adequately. John Goodlad’s chapter provides a sound overview of the content-based curriculum design that became the norm in schools during the efficiency movement.

Part III focuses on the 1960s and 1970s. The editors call the educational reform of those years a tug of war between the reconceptualists, who fervently spoke against the technical essentialist curriculum, and the traditionalists, who favored it. The most striking aspect of reconceptualist thought was that education should be approached from the learner’s perspective. This included experimenting with individualized instruction and discovery learning, understanding the needs of students, and providing them with choices in what they study and how they study. This was a marked departure from the viewpoint of the traditionalists, who advocated organization and structure of socially prescribed knowledge in schools. However, the view the editors present is not balanced between these two sides. They include three articles in support of reconceptualization (by Paolo Friere, Maxine Green, and William Pinar). Only one article, “The Paidaea Proposal” by Mortimer Adler, discusses traditional conservative thought, and it is immediately contradicted by a critical review by Nel Noddings. The section concludes with chapters by two additional reconstructionists, Milbrey McLaughlin and Michael Apple, who discuss the hegemony that “deskills” teachers as mere technicians rather than as curriculum decision makers.

Part IV of the book brings the reader to the contemporary field of curriculum. Today’s curriculum reflects an academic war based on differing political, social, and economic perspectives. Everything in the curriculum is questioned and scrutinized through the lens of race, class, and gender. Pinar goes to the extent of describing the curriculum as balkanized and particularized by segregated ideas (Pinar, Reynolds, Slattery, & Taubman, 1995). Reflecting Pinar’s characterization, the last section includes twelve chapters. Half are focused on cultural pluralism, covering issues such as gender equity, multicultural education, and equality. The rest represent voices that speak of AIDS and gay and lesbian education that may not be heard daily in the school news but carry relevance if we are to develop a humanistic society for equality and justice. The last chapter, by Nel Noddings, “The Aims of Education,” is a successful attempt to consolidate segregated voices. It calls educators to constantly reflect on and deliberate about the decisions we make in regard to curriculum. As we do that, we must not lose sight of the greater aim of education, which is ultimately to lead children to be happy.


Orenstein, A. C., & Hunkins, F. P. (2004). Curriculum: Foundations, principles and issues (4th ed.). Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Pinar, W. F., Reynolds, W. M., Slattery, P., & Taubman, P. M. (1995). Understanding curriculum: An introduction to the study of historical and contemporary curriculum discourse. New York: Lang.

Schubert, W. (1986). Curriculum: Perspective, paradigms, and possibility. New York: Macmillan.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 107 Number 7, 2005, p. 1448-1451
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 11785, Date Accessed: 10/27/2021 7:17:03 PM

Purchase Reprint Rights for this article or review
Article Tools
Related Articles

Related Discussion
Post a Comment | Read All

About the Author
  • Anju Jolly
    Penn State Capital College
    E-mail Author
    ANJU JOLLY, Assistant Professor, Teaching and Curriculum program, School of Behavioral Sciences and Education, Penn State Capital College. Interests include study of curriculum foundations, curriculum development, action research in the classroom and brain based teaching.
Member Center
In Print
This Month's Issue