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Knowledge and the Future of the Curriculum: International Studies in Social Realism

reviewed by Candace Schlein - October 22, 2015

coverTitle: Knowledge and the Future of the Curriculum: International Studies in Social Realism
Author(s): Brian Barrett, Elizabeth Rata (Eds.)
Publisher: Palgrave/MacMillan, New York
ISBN: 1137429259, Pages: 264, Year: 2014
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Here a social realist approach suggests that knowledge, as a product of enduring socio–intellectual networks that are extensive in time and space, possesses emergent properties that allow it to move beyond the immediate social and historical context of its production. It can be known by people of any time and place. (p. 2)

Powerful knowledge is seen as a form of knowledge that exists beyond temporal-historical and social-personal constructions, one that cannot be gained from life experience. It is, however, a form of knowledge that can be used to contribute to higher levels of thinking about the world. This edited text unpacks the concept of powerful knowledge as a means of enhancing educational equity among all students, especially students from low socioeconomic backgrounds at risk for facing an education that is lacking in powerful knowledge.

This book provides examples from a variety of international contexts, such as the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. This edited book is divided into fourteen chapters and four parts. The first part includes chapters that explore the concept of powerful knowledge. The second part examines the impact of educational policies on powerful knowledge. In Part Three, powerful knowledge is explored from the vantage of specific school subjects. In Part Four, chapters highlight theories of the pedagogical translation of powerful knowledge.

The text constructs a fascinating argument that an increased focus in schools on educational standards and testing has changed schooling. Consequently, schools in low socioeconomic areas have concentrated on basic skills and test preparation, while students attending schools in high-income communities might have more access to powerful knowledge (pp. 92–102). This text solidly highlights how educational policies that link learning with standards and testing contribute to a concentration on skills rather than knowledge in school. Significantly, Corbel explores how knowledge is becoming synonymous with skills, which creates a resistant environment against powerful knowledge. This is an important concept for teachers, as current educational policies may not support teaching that builds onto higher levels of knowledge and thought. Thus, this text offers cogent arguments for redirecting learning to knowledge instead of toward learning objectives that are tied to skills.

Moreover, contemporary educational policy concerns are often centered on reading, mathematics, and technology. These areas of study have thus gained dominance in the curriculum over non-tested subjects. In this book, McPhail, Morgan, and Ormond discretely examine the inherent knowledge value of music, geography, and history as springboards for vertical thinking. As such, this book raises a poignant argument for bringing arts and social studies education back from the educational margins.

All educators who are concerned with providing strong learning opportunities to students will benefit from reading this provocative book as a means of generating a conversation about the scope and direction of education today. However, it would have been useful for this book to engage readers in pragmatic means for reshaping education. Although this text includes chapters that discuss subject matter and teaching interactions in association with powerful knowledge, such discussions are rooted in theoretical considerations. Shalem and Slonimsky competently argued that there is a great need for theory as a teaching guide in teacher education. Yet this book offers conceptual food for thought without any of the complex specifics famously suggested by Schwab (1973) in curriculum planning and implementation. Shalem and Slonimsky’s chapter is the sole contribution to this edited volume that includes actual excerpts from classroom interactions; however, the excerpts are seemingly utilized to render theoretical concepts salient. If real change towards the inclusion of powerful knowledge is to occur in classrooms, teachers will need to be able to identify it and to understand ways of drawing out this form of knowledge across subject areas.

In addition, the concept of powerful knowledge assumes that a break between home and school is necessary in order to gain knowledge that is not associated with everyday life activities. Such a perspective on education might not capitalize on the knowledge that students bring to school nor bring forward inclusive curricular notions that see students as resources for learning. It is therefore recommended that readers of this book also consider how powerful knowledge might prove to further marginalize students from underrepresented backgrounds, who respond more positively within a curriculum of caring (Valenzuela, 1999).


Schwab, J. J. (1973). The practical 3: Translation into curriculum. School Review, 81(4), 501–522.

Valenzuela, A. (1999). Subtractive schooling: U.S.–Mexican youth and the politics of caring. New York, NY: State University of New York Press.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: October 22, 2015
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 18173, Date Accessed: 1/20/2022 12:09:17 PM

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About the Author
  • Candace Schlein
    University of Missouri Kansas City
    E-mail Author
    CANDACE SCHLEIN is an Associate Professor of Curriculum Studies in the Division of Teacher Education and Curriculum Studies at the University of Missouri–Kansas City. Her research interests include curriculum, intercultural teaching and learning, diversity, issues of educational equity, classroom management, and narrative inquiry. She is currently working on an edited text that is under contract with Information Age along with Barbara Garii as a Co–Editor, entitled “Critical and Narrative Lenses on Intercultural Teaching and Learning.” Her recent publications include: Schlein, C., & Schwartz, G. (2015). Teachers as curriculum. In M. F. He, B. D. Schultz, & W. H. Schubert (Eds.), Guide to curriculum in education (pp. 153-159). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage; Schlein, C. (2014). The possibilities of intercultural teaching experiences for teaching for social justice. In S. Sharma, J. Rahatza, & J. Phillion (Eds.), Internationalizing teacher education for social justice: Theory, research, and practice (pp. 119-136). Greenwich, CT: Information Age.
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