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The Curriculum Studies Reader (4th Edition)

reviewed by Daniel Mulcahy - February 21, 2014

coverTitle: The Curriculum Studies Reader (4th Edition)
Author(s): David J. Flinders & Stephen J. Thornton (eds.)
Publisher: Routledge, New York
ISBN: 0415520754, Pages: 432, Year: 2012
Search for book at Amazon.com

It is no small task to bring together a selection of readings that does justice to the field of curriculum studies. Recognizing the challenge, the editors of the collection of readings in The Curriculum Studies Reader clarify at the outset the criteria for their selections: work that is recognized within the field, pivotal, and pedagogically acceptable. Leaving aside for now the criterion of pedagogical acceptability, the criteria that the work be recognized and pivotal are unobjectionable. Although I return to this point, in this review I shall deal largely with the organization of the selected readings, their general content, and the introductory commentary.

The introductory commentary includes the Preface, a general introduction to the book, and separate introductions to each of the four parts into which the contents are arranged. It is the distinguishing feature of the book. It shows deep understanding and it explains concisely and clearly to the reader the significance of the selections as a whole and of the individual pieces. It acknowledges at the outset the range and variety of topics that the field embraces, that it is not a seamless web of highly integrated elements, and that it is marked as much by strong differences of opinion on key questions as it is by agreements on some of these questions.

The editors date the beginnings of the field to around the beginning of the twentieth century. Part One of the book comprises readings by mostly American writers of the first half of the twentieth century. The first selection being from The Curriculum (1918) by Franklin Bobbitt suggests that the editors accept his contribution as, at the least, foundational to the field.  If one sees in Bobbitt an awareness of the distinctive character of curriculum as a field of inquiry and practice this is less evident if present at all in the other selections. In Part One these include selections from Maria Montessori, John Dewey, Jane Addams, and George S. Counts. These selections are justified, it seems, on the grounds that they are well recognized and have had a wide ranging impact on the field, even if not entirely central to it. Part Two has a similar character, although it is less pronounced here. The first selection, drawn from Basic Principles of Curriculum and Instruction (1949) by Ralph Tyler, clearly exhibits an awareness of the field as being focused on principles of curriculum development. Much the same is true of the first selection in Part Three, namely, “The Reconceptualization of Curriculum Studies” (1978) by Bill Pinar. Other selections, such as “”Centripetal Thinking in Curriculum Studies” (2010) by Peter Hlebowitsh and “Curriculum for the 21st Century” (2007) by Nel Noddings in Part Four exhibit a greater or lesser degree of this awareness. In other selections, such as that from The Paideia Proposal (1982) by Mortimer Adler any such awareness is essentially nonexistent.

The commentary provided by the editors and the themes used to organize the readings are both informative and explanatory. The organizing theme in the Introduction to Part One is the attention, or lack of it, given to the experience and interests of the learner in curriculum making. The reading from Bobbitt represents the position of one for whom the interests and experiences of individual students is of little or no concern and shows well the view that the demands of society ought to shape the curriculum. The selections from Dewey and Montessori, by contrast, reflect well the position of those for whom the nature and interest of the students are an essential consideration.

The adoption of a scientific or more mechanistic approach to curriculum making is the organizing principle for the selections in Part Two. Here the emphasis on objectives as the starting point for curriculum development found in the work of Tyler and James Popham is contrasted with the approaches of Elliot Eisner, Philip Jackson, and Maxine Greene. The point of variance identified between both sets is that the objectives approach, in which curricula are designed in the abstract and in isolation from actual classrooms and students, overlooks the press of classroom implementation and relevance to “the existential desires for meaning and direction salient in the lives of young people” (p. 8).

The attention to the scientific approach to curriculum making referred to in the Introduction to Part Two is partially carried over to Part Three. A second pertinent theme is that of choice versus mandated curriculum content. Building off of the distinction drawn in Pinar’s piece between what he labels ‘traditionalists’ and ‘conceptual-empiricists’, selections included here are from Adler, whose contribution is viewed as an example of a traditionalist (and mandated) stance, and Noddings’ critique of that piece. Selections from Noddings and from Paulo Freire and Michael Apple may be seen as reflecting non traditionalist perspectives, even if the specific focus is different in all three.

It is clear from the Introduction to Part Four that the editors recognize the challenge of identifying in more contemporary writings what is going to be of lasting value. Here a theme such as diversity and innovation rather than the catch-all theme of ‘continuity and change’ would appear to better reflect the actual selections. Because of their recent appearance in the literature, as the editors point out, it is difficult to judge the lasting significance of these selections. They do include, nonetheless, important contemporary work dealing with high-stakes testing, the treatment of gender in education, environmental education and, especially in the piece by Hlebowitsh, the nature of the field of curriculum studies itself.

Inevitably readers will identify contributions that might have been included but which are not. This brings up again the question of pedagogical suitability as a criterion for selection. Most would agree that unintelligible writings or those that are “challenging for reasons unnecessary to understanding” (p. xiii) ought not be included in this or any collection. At the same time, the exclusion of material that may be more demanding on the reader but which reasonably forms part of the literature is difficult to justify. The work of Joseph Schwab mentioned by the authors in their text but not included among the selections readily comes to mind; it is a questionable exclusion. So too is the exclusion of distinguished contributions such as “Liberal Education and the Nature of Knowledge” (1965/1974) by the English philosopher of education, Paul Hirst, “The Ideal of the Educated Person” (1981) by Jane Roland Martin, and the influential early work of Henry Giroux on theory and resistance in education (1983), all landmark contributions to the field. But here one is in danger of critiquing the book on the grounds of personal predilections or for not being a different book.

Reservations aside, The Curriculum Studies Reader makes for sobering reading: sobering because of the growing richness of the scholarship in curriculum; sobering too when one recognizes the extent to which it is disregarded by those who shape policy, a point brought out tellingly by Herbert Kliebard in referring to the work of Boyd Bode. One way of addressing such disregard is by making available to readers this book, which is now in its fourth edition.


Giroux, H. (1983). Theory and resistance in education: A pedagogy for the opposition. South Hadley, MA: Bergin and Garvey

Hirst, P. H. (1974). Liberal education and the nature of knowledge. In P.H. Hirst, Knowledge and the curriculum (pp. 23-40). London, Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Martin, J. R. (1981). The Ideal of the Educated Person.  Educational Theory, 31(2), 97–109

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: February 21, 2014
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 17443, Date Accessed: 1/28/2022 11:34:22 PM

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About the Author
  • Daniel Mulcahy
    Central Connecticut State University
    E-mail Author
    DANIEL G. MULCAHY is Connecticut State University Professor and Professor in the School of Education and Professional Studies, at Central Connecticut State University. His chief interest is the reconceptualization of general education. He is the author of The Educated Person (Rowman and Littlefield, 2008) and co-editor of Education in North America (Bloomsbury, 2014). He is the co-author of a forthcoming book, Pedagogy, Praxis, and Purpose in Education (Routledge, forthcoming).
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