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

Engendering Curriculum History

reviewed by Seungho Moon - April 06, 2012

coverTitle: Engendering Curriculum History
Author(s): Petra Hendry
Publisher: Routledge, New York
ISBN: 0415885671, Pages: 272, Year: 2011
Search for book at Amazon.com

Engendering Curriculum History by Petra Munro Hendry is a book to (re)construct curriculum history from gendered perspectives. Hendry poses the question, What happens in the curriculum studies field when curriculum theorists disrupt chronological displays of heroic subjects and challenge a monolithic understanding of the origin of history, knowledge, and female identity? In an attempt to explore this difficult, challenging, and unanswerable question, Hendry revisits women’s narratives that have been omitted from conventional historical accounts of knowledge, curriculum, and education.

Women’s narratives are the grounds on which Hendry lands her attempt for reconstructing curriculum history. Hendry’s emphasis on narratives is deeply connected with her theorization of narrative as a mode of inquiry as well as a way of knowing. In her recent journal publication, “Narrative as Inquiry,” Hendry (2010) posited that narrative is a structure for organizing knowledge and experience. Namely, narrative as inquiry goes beyond a mere method of research and moves toward a process of generating meanings that encompasses the scientific, the symbolic, and the sacred spheres of inquiry.

Hendry’s examinations of, on, and about female mystics, religious educators/leaders, martyrs, philosophers, and educators are deeply explicated by her detailing of the complexities of “narratives.” Women’s narratives in this book become ways of knowing, in regard to (1) who is validated as a knower, (2) what is considered as official knowledge, and (3) what can be known. By posing these epistemological questions, Hendry contributes to expanding the conversation not only by reconstituting particularly women’s narratives but also by disrupting the binaries of male/female, rational/emotional, and universal/narrow. Drawn from this reconstruction of culture, knowledge, and self/other in relation to gendered subjectivities, Hendry conceptualizes narrative inquiry “as grounded in the doubt that is essential to creating and recreating” (Hendry, 2010, p. 74). Engendering Curriculum History demonstrates women’s narratives as “epistemology of doubt” (p. 74)—doubt here challenges curriculum theorists to engage in more ethical and democratic conversations in our inquiries in what and whose knowledge should be official, valid, and important.

Hendry’s complications of curriculum history begin with her claims of history not as linear/progressive, but as rhizomic/discursively constructed across time and space. Five major chapters in Engendering Curriculum History, drawn from the construction of gendered subjects, have opened spaces for me to re-view curriculum history from particular and varying discourses of images, the body, colonization, progressivism, and pragmatism. In Chapter 1, “Engendering Curriculum History,” Hendry provides a feminist, poststructuralist theoretical framework for analyzing curriculum history from re-membrance, reflexivity, and responsibility. She reviews women’s narratives while challenging the fixed meanings of “real” representation, linearity, and the truth. In Chapter 2, “Imagining Curriculum,” Hendry examines creation stories from pre-Christian, Chinese, Judaic, Early Greek, and Gnostic epistemologies. With the use of these creation stories, Hendry challenges that “science” is not the only legitimate source of knowledge. Rather, Hendry underscores the ways of knowing from “images” of being-in-the-world, which are not predicated on a binary worldview of male/female, rational/irrational, and subject/object. Chapter 3, “Embodying Curriculum,” is the chapter in which Hendry imagines the “body” as a space of knowing. Drawing from narratives of medieval religious educators/leaders and mystics (i.e., Hildegard of Bingen, Julian of Norwich, Teresa of Avila, and Mechthild of Magdeburg), Hendry conceptualizes the body as a site to explore love and passion as central, not peripheral, to knowing. In Chapter 4, “Decolonizing Curriculum,” Hendry posits that the Renaissance and Enlightenment ideologies are hegemonic because they consider women not as the subjects of knowledge but as the objects. Grand narratives state that education became available to more people influenced by the Enlightenment ideology. Yet, Hendry explicates that “the reification of gender dichotomy” (p. 109) commodified an essentialized understanding of different gender roles and responsibilities between men and women. Education for men was grounded in increasing rationality, whereas that for women was limited to domestic roles.

In Chapter 5, “Unsettling Curriculum,” Hendry introduces women philosophers’ and educators’ different approaches to progressive education as ongoing shifts and ruptures rather than as linear development. The narratives from Anna Julia Cooper, Jane Addams, and Ida B. Wells are central to Hendry’s theorizing curriculum history at the turn of the century in order to relate education to conceptions of democracy. Jane Addams’s theorization of democracy and social change is significant in this chapter. The mechanism for “exclusion” becomes prevalent when this gendered, classed, and racialized practice of citizenship is disguised with gender neutrality and liberation. How to unsettle this “pedagogy for patriarch” (p. 18) is the center of this chapter. In Chapter 6, “Experiencing Curriculum,” Hendry examines the gendered discourse of pragmatism in the “progressive” era. Hendry examines various experimental and community schools that women curriculum theorists developed and analyzes the possibilities and limitations of teachers’ and students’ experiences as curriculum practices. Hendry argues that the narratives of Ella Flagg Young, Hawkins Brown, Lucy Sprague Mitchell, and other women philosophers were central to rethinking the very ways in which gender dichotomy constructed undemocratic social relations.  

In comparison with Hendry’s previous works, Engendering Curriculum History follows her focus on raising questions and doubts from research participants’ perspectives. For example, in her earlier work, Subject to Fiction: Women Teachers’ Life History Narratives and the Cultural Politics of Resistance (Munro, 1998), Hendry challenged essentializing discourses of teaching and explicated the ways in which three women teachers constructed themselves as subjects. In Hendry and Edwards’s (2009) book, Old South Baton Rouge: The Root of Hope, the authors used counternarratives from the neighborhood called the Old South Baton Rouge as a form of democratic research in order to make local youth aware of “unappreciated cultural, political, and social history” (Hendry & Edwards, 2009, p. 2).

In Engendering Curriculum History, Hendry raises even more challenging questions and further complicates the relationships among historical narratives, gendered subjectivity, and curriculum. With the use of multiple narratives from international creation stories, mystics of Europe, and educators during the 19th and 20th century in the United States, Hendry raises questions of how might we rethink curriculum history from gendered perspectives. How might curriculum theorists move beyond a linear description of storylines (“what” really happened) and salient heroes (“whom” to remember) in a specific time period? The narratives in Engendering Curriculum History contribute to imbuing women’s “wisdom” with imagination, embodiment, decolonization, nonlinear progress, and experiences as valuable spaces. Knowledge is reconceptualized with/in and with/out gendered, racialized, classed, and sexualized curriculum discourses. Indeed, Hendry provides a historiography to suspend the chronological readings of curriculum history drawn from social progressivism: the Golden Age, Dark Ages, Enlightenment, and so on. Thus, this book enables curriculum theorists to ponder the complex and paradoxical ways in which subject identities are constructed through memory. This memory is embodied in space and time, and generated through discourses, ideologies, and power relations.

Engendering Curriculum History does further complicate my understanding of curriculum history that is discursively constructed and (re)generated from the crucial question of who decides what knowledge should be valid and important. U.S. curriculum history is predominantly taught by chronological explications of what happened in U.S. education—especially from the beginning of public schooling due to the urbanization and industrialization in the 19th century. Thus, U.S. public education is linearly divided by several stages: a humanist, child-study scholarship, social efficiency, and social meliorism (Kliebard, 2004). Another dominant inquiry in U.S. educational history is to choose a specific time period in order to reexamine current discourses in education. Donato and Lazerson (2000), for instance, highlighted the “Golden Era” in educational history (i.e., 1960s and 1970s) to analyze recent developments in the fields of ethnic and gender diversity, history and policy, and higher education.

Engendering Curriculum History, a gendered perspective in curriculum history, thus provides readers with a historiography to read, write, and interpret curriculum history beyond listing historical events and heroes chronologically. Hendry’s book is a contribution to the field of curriculum history, with the emphasis on multiple, complex, and discursively constructed understandings of history, knowledge, and curriculum. It provides an alternative method to our inquiry on whose and what knowledge has been historically considered important. In addition, emphasis has been placed on how educators might revisit current cutting-edge issues from historical narratives. In addition, Hendry shows how curriculum theorists could stretch out narratives not simply as a method but also as an inquiry for further wonders. “Narrative as Inquiry” (Hendry, 2010) is used to problematize current educational phenomena through narratives of women mystics, religious educators/leaders, and philosophers. Readers can trace back curriculum history from the explications of these and others whose knowledge has been marginalized from long-standing patriarchal constructions of what and whose “knowledges” count.

Another major contribution of Engendering Curriculum History is Hendry’s analysis of current educational problems generated from her study of the women’s narratives. Hendry seeks to create a space to challenge the standardized testing movement and the myth of progressivism, measured by test scores and teacher efficiency. For example, when Hendry conceptualizes Embodying Curriculum History, she reclaims the body as the site of knowing that disrupts a notion of unitary individual. This disruption of a unitary individual is the center of reconceiving biopower, where currently the student body becomes the space of constant controlling with tests and rewards/punishments. Further, framing her studies through the lenses of mysticism as well as the importance of a transgressive epistemology—that is, the embodiment of a holistic understanding of experience and knowledge from mind, body, and soul—Hendry emphasizes the profound and complex ways in which we come to know what cannot be assessed through standardized curriculum and testing.

Similarly, Hendry challenges current educational reform to “discover” American national identity from a hierarchical view of human ability. Hendry introduces Ella Flagg Young’s emphasis on teachers’ reflective practices in order to challenge the current standardized testing movement, privatization of education, and teacher training models. Hendry states, “Concepts like ‘at risk’ and ‘achievement gap’ continue to code identities in ways that maintain a hierarchy based on human ability and worth, while masquerading as aspects of ‘Progressive reforms’” (p. 169). When Hendry analyzes progressivism ideology grounded in gendered subjectivity, she encourages us to re-member our collective educational memories about the linear ideology of progressivism. She proposes that an individual’s ability cannot be and should not be “inherently marked along a continuum of worth” (p. 167) via testing, tracking, differentiated curriculum, and labeling. The art of this book originates from Hendry’s theory of history that historical narratives should begin from current problems through a (re)turn to the past, which cannot be chronologically listed as a chart or periodization.

Throughout this book, whenever I read narratives of “women” and Hendry’s historical analysis of them, I revisited those narratives from Butler’s theorization of strategic provisionality. Butler (1993a) suggested considering identity signifiers in a temporal and provisional space, demanding that the space remain open with possibility. For example, “women”––which Butler claims is the constituted effect of discourses––can never claim to represent “identity” as a prior truth or predetermined self. There is no prediscursive “experience,” let alone conceiving of the American women’s experience in history. At best, the signifier of “woman” becomes a site of constant trouble, contestation, and revision (Butler, 1993b).

Theoretically influenced by feminist, poststructuralist perspectives, Hendry does not assume that there exists a monolithic version of women’s experience, voices, or ways of knowing. Yet, I see her desire to begin historical narratives from “women” as a valuable site on which to draw for researching knowledge necessary for (re)viewing curriculum as gendered text. As Hendry explains in the preface, Engendering Curriculum History has begun with a quest to situate “women” as curriculum theorists in curriculum studies. I acknowledge a tension that always exists in the field in terms of which versions of women are “rendered visible, and which internal exclusions will that rendering visible institute” (Butler, 1993b, p. 126).

Hendry’s approach to curriculum as gendered text makes me wonder about the ways in which Engendering Curriculum History problematizes the notion of “women” in the theorization of gendered subjectivities with/in curriculum history. To what extent has Hendry opened spaces for other counternarratives that cannot be re-membered from U.S.-centric and Eurocentric explications of women’s narratives? What counternarratives could be created if the invisibility of Native American women was also elaborated in relation to Catholic women’s “New World” narratives (pp. 125–131)? Engendering Curriculum History still leaves a space for curriculum theorists to rethink what it means by “women,” although Hendry does foreground women’s narratives from African Americans with poverty, international creation stories, and women mystics of Europe as well. Beginning from this complicated question about “women,” curriculum theorists will be able to ask more questions: What happens in a curriculum that is a provisional space, one that opens and opens to re-articulation of gender? How can curriculum theorists further disrupt the universalized signifier of “women” when curriculum history is reconstructed through classed, racialized, sexualized, and nationalized texts?

Hendry narrates that it took 15 years to finish Engendering Curriculum History. I read the book title with two meanings of (1) re-creating gender in curriculum history (en-gendering) and (2) reviewing curriculum history from gendered perspectives. With this difficult yet indispensable work, I envision a curriculum history that opens new possibilities of complicatedness in the discursive constructions of gender, knowledge, and curriculum. As Hendry hoped, I believe that her work will “provide inspiration to educators” and encourage them to “re-member and engender new curriculum histories” (p. 10). One way of reading this book would be chapter by chapter, depending on readers’ inquiry in curriculum history. Each chapter has a slightly different standpoint in terms of the selection of target groups and the analysis of narratives. This invaluable book will be useful not only to curriculum studies major students and researchers but also to other history, education, gender studies majors, researchers, and teachers who are passionate about re-membering histories with/in contingent times and spaces.


I am indebted to Dr. Janet Miller, Dr. Hongyu Wang, and Dr. Charlie Tocci for their comments on the draft.


Butler, J. (1993a). Bodies that matter: On the discursive limits of “sex.” New York, NY: Routledge.

Butler, J. (1993b). Imitation and gender insubordination. In H. Abelove, M. A. Barale, & D. M. Halperin (Eds.), The lesbian and gay studies reader (pp. 307–320). New York, NY: Routledge.

Donato, R., & Lazerson, M. (2000). New directions in American educational history: Problems and prospects. Educational Researcher, 29(8), 4–15.

Hendry, P. (2010). Narrative as inquiry. Journal of Educational Research, 103(2), 72–81.

Hendry, P., & Edwards, J. (2009). Old South Baton Rouge: Roots of hope. Lafayette: Center for Louisiana Studies.

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

Munro, P. (1998). Subject to fiction: Women teachers' life history narratives and the cultural politics of resistance. London, England: Open University Press.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: April 06, 2012
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 16748, Date Accessed: 12/4/2021 5:21:56 PM

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

Related Discussion
Post a Comment | Read All

About the Author
  • Seungho Moon
    Oklahoma State University
    E-mail Author
    SEUNGHO MOON is an assistant professor in curriculum studies at Oklahoma State University. He has been involved in assisting small learning communities (SLCs) via the Institute for Student Achievement (ISA) project at the National Center for Restructuring Education, Schools, and Teaching (NCREST), Teachers College, Columbia University. His recent publications include “The Note of Discord: Examining Educational Perspectives Between Teachers and Korean Parents” (Teaching and Teacher Education), “Re-visioning Into Thirdspace: Autobiographies on Losing Home-and-Homeland (Journal of Curriculum and Pedagogy), and “Rethinking Culturally Responsive Teaching for New (Im)possibilities of Multicultural Curriculum Studies and Policy” (Multicultural Education Review). His book review on The Assault on Public Education: Confronting the Politics of Corporate School Reform, edited by William Watkins (2011), has been published in Teachers College Record. His current research encompasses the engagement of poststructuralist theories on curriculum studies and school reform, diversity and equity, aesthetic education, and narrative research.
Member Center
In Print
This Month's Issue