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P o litic s o f C u r r ic u lu m : O rig in s , C o n tr o v e rs ie s , a n d S ig n ific a n c e o f C r itic a l P e rs p e c tiv e s A u th o r(s ): W illia m F. P in a r an d C. A. B o w ers Source: R e v ie w o f R esea rch in E d u ca tio n , Vol. 18 (1992), pp . 163-190 P u b lis h e d b y : A m e r ic a n E d u c a tio n a l R e s e a rc h A sso c ia tio n S tab le URL: A ccessed: 1 2 /0 9 /2 0 0 9 12:45

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Chapter 4

Politics of Curriculum: Origins, Controversies, and Significance of Critical Perspectives

W ILLIAM F. PINAR Louisiana State University

C. A. BOWERS University of Oregon

In one sense, m ost educational th eo rists w ho have envisioned using the educational p ro cess to sup p o rt social reform could be said to exhibit a “ critical p e rs p e c tiv e .” John D ew ey (1916), G eorge C ounts (1932), and H arold Rugg (1929-1932), as well as re cen t conservative critics such as A lan Bloom and William J. B en n ett, have argued for educational reform s th at presum ably would fo ste r s tu d e n ts’ capacity to think in m ore critical and inform ed w ays about the issues o f the day. W hile progressives, social re co n stru ctio n ists, and co n serv ativ es would und erstan d the social goals and con seq u en ces o f such critical thinking from quite different ideological points o f view , all could be said to advocate “ critical p e rsp e c tiv e s.” (In­ d eed, P resident B ush, in his January 1991 State of the U nion address, used the term em pow erm en t, long a favorite o f left-wing th eo rists in e d u ­ cation.) In the field o f education, particularly in the field o f curriculum , the concept o f “ critical p e rsp e c tiv e s” has been ap propriated by a group w hose intellectual ro o ts can be trac ed , variously, to the F rankfurt School o f Critical T heory and to M arxist and neo-M arxist theoreticians as varied as A ntonio G ram sci, R aym ond W illiams, and, in education p roper, Paulo F reire.

W ithin this group th ere can be said to be tw o subgroups. One has iden­ tified its agenda w ith the co n cep t o f “ critical ped ag o g y ,” and the m ost visible o f its spokesm en include H enry G iroux, P eter M cL aren, and Ira Shor (1987a). A no th er group is m ore allied with concepts o f critical schol­ arship and the politics o f curriculum , the m ost visible being M ichael W. Apple and his m any students. Philip W exler may re p resen t the vanguard o f a third group th at b oth condem ns the w ork o f the first tw o and suggests

A shorter version o f this essay, coauthored with William M. Reynolds, was presented at the annual meeting o f the American Educational Research Association, Boston, April 1990.


164 Review of Research in Education, 18

an alternative. C ollectively, this effort— increasingly diverse and acri­ m onious— to u n d erstan d curriculum as a political tex t re p resen ts the larg­ est body o f co n tem p o rary scholarship in the field. Especially due to the efforts o f M ichael W. A pple and H enry A. G iroux, political scholarship functioned to reconceptualize the curriculum field from its m oribund, atheoretical state Schw ab decried in 1970 to its dynam ic and com plex configuration today.

The origins o f this w ork will be outlined in the first section, focusing on its conceptual developm ent (i.e., reproduction and resistance theory). In the second section, co n tro v ersies both within this discourse and from outside will be review ed. In a third section, we shall conclude with a discussion o f o u r concerns with this body o f w ork.


The first step in the effort to un d erstan d curriculum as a political text involved the co n cep t o f rep ro d u ctio n o r correspondence. In their widely read Schooling in C apitalist A m erica, Bow les and G intis (1976) regarded schools as functioning in the stratum o f su p erstru ctu re, a stratum d e te r­ mined by so c ie ty ’s econom ic base. Strike (1989, p. 26) po rtray s this re ­ lationship as follows:




Relations o f production


Material productive forces

C ausality occu rred unidirectionally, from base to su p erstru ctu re. E le­ m ents in the base are used to account for elem ents in the su p erstru ctu re (Strike, 1989, p. 26). In classic M arxian term s, the base determ ines the su p erstru ctu re. Bow les and G intis argued th at schools prepare students to en ter the cu rren t econom ic system via a correspondence betw een school stru ctu re and the stru ctu re o f production.

The stru ctu re o f social relations in education not only inures the student to the discipline o f the w orkplace but develops the types o f personal dem eanor, m odes o f self-presentation, self-image, and social class iden­ tifications th at are the crucial ingredients o f jo b adequacy. Specifically,

Pinar and Bowers: Politics of Curriculum 165

the social relationships o f ed u c atio n — the relationships betw een adm in­ istrato rs and te a c h e rs, teac h ers and stu d en ts, students and stu d en ts, and students and th eir w o rk — replicate the hierarchical divisions o f labor. H ierarchical relations are reflected in the vertical authority lines from adm inistrators to teac h ers to students. A lienated labor is reflected in the stu d e n t’s lack o f control o v er his o r h er education, the alienation o f the student from the curriculum co n ten t, and the m otivation o f school w ork through a system o f grades and o th er external rew ards ra th e r th an the stu d e n t’s integration w ith the p ro cess (learning) o r the outcom e (know l­ edge) o f the educational “ production p ro c e s s ” (Bowles & G intis, 1976, p. 131).

Relying on this principle o f co rresp o n d en c e, Apple (1979) and Giroux (1981a) argued th at schools functioned to reproduce the class stru ctu re o f the w orkplace (L iston, 1986). A lthough originating outside the cu rric­ ulum field, the principle o f co rresp o n d en ce was an im portant first step in understanding curriculum as a political text.

A second co n cep t im ported from o th e r fields aided politically oriented curriculum scholars to advance their argum ent. Louis A lth u sse r’s (1971) u nderstanding o f ideology provided an o th er m ajor concept in curriculum scholarship. M cL aren (1989) explains:

Simply put ideology refers to the production o f meaning. It can be described as a way o f viewing the world, a com plex o f ideas, various types o f social practices, rituals and rep­ resentations that we tend to accept as natural and as common sense. It is the result o f the intersection o f meaning and pow er in the social world. Custom s, rituals, beliefs and values often produce within individuals distorted conceptions o f their place in the sociocultural order and thereby serve to reconcile them to that place and to disguise the inequitable relations o f power and privilege; this is som etimes referred to as “ ideological hegem ony.” (p. 176)

W exler (1987) regarded ideology as the first key concept o f the new sociology o f education and curriculum . R ejecting w hat some c h a ra c te r­ ized as m ore “ v u lg ar” in terp re tatio n s o f the b ase /su p e rstru ctu re rela­ tionships in M arxian th eo ry , A lth u sser argued th at the relation o f the econom ic base to the institutions o f society cannot be reduced to any linear cause/effect determ inism (G iroux, 1983a, p. 79). Institutions w ere term ed “ ideological state a p p a ra tu se s” by A lth u sser (1971), w ho claim ed that institutions functioned to subjugate the w orking class. G iroux (1983a) interpreted the A lthusserian conception o f ideology for curricularists:

First, it [ideology] has a material existence: rituals, practices, and social processes that structure the day-to-day workings o f schools. . . . Second, ideology neither produces con­ sciousness nor a willing passive compliance. Instead it functions as a system o f represen­ tations, carrying meanings and ideas that structure the unconsciousness o f students, (p. 81)

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The concept o f ideology becam e central in understanding curriculum as political tex t. C urriculum itself becam e conceptualized as an ideolog­ ical m ystification (A pple, 1990a; G iroux, 1981a, 1981b, 1981c). Both Apple and G iroux d escribed how the co n ten t and form o f the curriculum w ere ideological in nature (Apple, 1990a; G iroux, 1981c). G enerally, the ideas and culture associated w ith the dom inant class w ere argued to be the ideas and co n ten t o f schooling. D om inant culture was described as those “ social practices and re p resen tatio n s th at affirm the central values, interests, and concerns o f the social class in control of the m aterial and symbolic w ealth o f so c ie ty ” (M cL aren, 1989, p. 172).

By the early 1980s, the largely econom ic version o f reproduction (cor­ respondence) was being criticized by m any o f the sam e scholars who had em braced it in the 1970s. N ow reproduction theory was characterized as determ inistic and sim plistic (G iroux, cited in O lson, 1981), as lacking a cultural analysis (Apple, 1979, 1980), as lacking an adequate theory o f agency (Strike, 1989), and as basically m echanistic (G iroux, 1983a). In an essay titled “ C ontradiction and R eproduction in E ducational T h e o ry ,” Bowles and G intis (1980) them selves criticized their earlier w ork:

The most critical [problem] is simply this: by standing in our approach as the only structural link between education and the econom y and by its character as an inherently harmonious link between the two, the correspondence principle forced us to adopt a narrow and in­ adequate appreciation o f the contradictions involved in the articulation o f the educational system within the social totality, (p. 53)

Bowles and Gintis acknow ledge th at th eir earlier argum ent m issed certain essential asp ects o f reproduction. As L iston notes (1986), they specify notions o f sites and p ractices as crucial in understanding reproduction. They suggest th at society be regarded as “ an ensem ble o f structurally articulated sites o f social p ra c tic e ,” the prim ary th ree of which are state, family, and school (Bowles & G intis, 1980, p. 55). Social p ractices re p ­ resent “ fundam ental and irreducible elem ents of social d y n am ics” (Bowles & G intis, 1980, p. 56).

Bowles and G intis theorize four types o f social practice, the point of which is social transform ation. The first is the appropriative, the goal of which is the creation o f useful projects. The second is the political, the goal o f which is the transform ation o f social relations. The third is term ed the cultural, w hich is said to transform the tools o f discourse. The fourth is the distributive, w hich functions to alter the distribution of pow er and incom e (Bowles & G intis, 1980; see also L iston, 1988). Sites and practices “ add u p ” to w hat B ow les and G intis term a “ contradictory to ta lity ” (Bowles & G intis, 1980, p. 56).

This mixing o f sites and practices produces tw o dynam ic tendencies that have distinct consequences: reproductive and “ co n tra d ic to ry ” (and

Pinar and Bowers: Politics of Curriculum 167

underm ining) effects (L iston, 1988, p. 54). Bow les and Gintis acknow ledge that their earlier w ork (1976) failed to account for this fundam entally co n ­ tradictory c h a ra c te r o f social relations. S chools are said to exhibit these con trad icto ry tendencies. T he stage is set for “ resistance th e o ry .”

W exler notes th at “ the F ran k fu rt S chool analysis o f culture was also used to establish the view o f education as a site for re p ro d u ctio n ” (1987, p. 40). Am ong th o se asso ciated with the F ran k fu rt School are T heodor A dorno, W alter B enjam in, Jurgen H ab erm as, M ax H orkheim er, and H e r­ b ert M arcuse, all o f w hom are cited by politically oriented curriculum scholars, especially by G iroux and W exler. W hat was the intent o f the F rankfurt School? B roadly speaking, the F rankfurt School dep arted from the m ajor M arxism s o f the 1930s, nam ely Stalinist M arxism . F ran k fu rt School scholars d eem phasized the econom ic foundations o f M arxism and its theory o f the historical inevitability o f class conflict, including the close identification o f the C om m unist P arty with the “ dictatorship o f the p ro ­ le ta ria t.” F ran k fu rt S chool scholars ten d ed to em phasize culture ra th e r than econom ics— culture in its anthropological as well as aesthetic sense. They might be said to typify the “ early M arx ” ra th e r than the scientism characteristic o f the “ late M arx ” (M iller, 1979). M ore specifically,

It was the hope o f Horkheimer and the others that their work would help establish a critical social consciousn ess able to penetrate existing ideology, sustain independent judgment and be capable, as Adorno put it, o f maintaining its freedom to think that things might be different. (Held, 1980, p. 38)

G iroux (1983a) regarded the F ran k fu rt School as fundam ental to un­ derstanding curriculum as a political tex t (i.e., as expressing a political meaning):

I argued that the foundation for a radical theory o f schooling can, in part, be developed from the work o f the Frankfurt School and the more recent literature on the hidden curric­ ulum. Whereas the Frankfurt School provides a discourse and mode o f critique for deepening our understanding o f the nature and the function o f schooling, critiques o f the hidden cur­ riculum have provided modes o f analysis that uncover the ideologies and interests embedded in the m essage system s, codes and routines that characterize daily classroom life. (p. 72)

The hidden curriculum , first popularized by Philip Jackson (1968), was another im portant conceptual tool for politically oriented curriculum scholars. The co n c ep t refers to those unintended but quite real outcom es and featu res o f the schooling p ro cess (A pple, 1975, 1990a; G iroux & Pur- pel, 1983; M cL aren , 1989). The hidden curriculum is to be distinguished from the “ o v e rt” curriculum , o r the planned curriculum , including o b ­ jectiv es. M cL aren (1989) defines the concept:

The hidden curriculum deals with the tacit w ays in which knowledge and behavior get constructed, outside the usual course materials and formally scheduled lessons. It is part

168 Review of Research in Education, 18

o f the bureaucratic and managerial “ press” o f the school— the combined forces by which students are induced to comply with the dominant ideologies and social practices related to authority, behavior and morality, (pp. 183-184)

M ichael W. A pple, the first to re assert curriculum as a political text in the 1970s, defined the hidden curriculum in a way th at pointed to the concept of hegem ony, an o th er im portant conceptual tool for politically oriented curriculum scholars.

The hidden curriculum in schools serves to reinforce basic rules surrounding the nature o f conflict and its uses. It posits a network o f assumptions that, when internalized by students, establishes the boundaries o f legitimacy. This process is accomplished not so much by explicit instances showing the negative value o f conflict, but by nearly the total absence o f instances showing the importance o f intellectual and normative conflict in subject areas. The fact is that these assumptions are obligatory for the students, since at no time are the assumptions articulated or questioned. (Apple, 1975, p. 99)

Owing to A p p le’s efforts, in p art, the concept o f the hidden curriculum becam e taken-for-granted curriculum know ledge, widely cited by those who insisted th at the curriculum functioned to m aintain social stratifi­ cation as well as o th er stratifications, especially those o f class, race, and gender (Apple, 1982b, 1990a; A ronow itz & G iroux, 1985; B eyer & A pple, 1988; G iroux, 1981a, 1983a, 1988b; G iroux, P enna, & Pinar, 1981; Giroux & Purpel, 1983; O akes, 1985; Shapiro, 1981, 1983a; Sharp, 1980; Shor, 1986; W eis, 1988).

A nother m ajor co n cep t em ployed in understanding curriculum as a po ­ litical text was hegem ony, b orrow ed from the Italian M arxist A ntonio Gram sci (1971/1972), w ho b orrow ed the term from M arx and Engels (1974). G ram sci em phasized “ the role o f the su p erstru ctu re in p erp etu ­ ating class and preventing the developm ent o f class c o n sc io u sn e ss” (Car- noy, cited in A pple, 1982a, p. 86). H e em ployed hegem ony in tw o senses. F irst, hegem ony referred to a p ro cess o f dom ination w hereby the ruling class is said to exercise political control through its intellectual and m oral leadership o v er allied classes (G ram sci, 1985). (This is the sense in which M arx and Engels used the term .) S econd, hegem ony referred as well to the use o f force and ideology in the reproduction o f class relations (A ron­ ow itz & G iroux, 1985, p. 88). T hus, hegem ony is understood to occu r via the use o f force and via the shaping o f hum an consciousness.

The co n cep t o f hegem ony helped critical curriculum scholars refine the basic “ b a se /su p e rstru c tu re ” m odel o f reproduction th at had been ac­ cepted during the 1970s. Relying on R aym ond Williams (1976), Apple declared th at the concept o f hegem ony cap tu res the com plexity o f p ro ­ cesses o f “ s a tu ra tio n .” In p articular, A pple draw s upon W illiam s’s co n ­ cept o f “ selective tra d itio n ” to point to the w ays in which curriculum

Pinar and Bowers: Politics of Curriculum 169

functions to privilege certain sets and orders o f know ledge o v er o thers (W illiams, cited in A pple, 1990a, pp. 5 -6 ). O ther politically oriented schol­ ars rely on this co n c ep t in th eir analysis o f cultural reproduction (Apple, 1982b, 1986, 1990a; G iroux, 1980, 1981a, 1983a, 1988b; M cL aren, 1989; Sharp, 1980).

H enry G iroux w orried th at an overreliance on the concept of re p ro ­ duction risks a “ d iscourse o f d e sp a ir.” If reproduction occu rred as in­ contestably as Bow les and G intis and the critical scholars o f the 1970s insisted th at it did, th ere w as little hope for significant change aside from alterations in the econom ic base. The concept o f ideology p o rtray ed teach ers and students as accom plices in the reproduction of the ruling class. H egem ony seem ed to suggest th at no escape was possible, as co n ­ sciousness itself w as satu ra te d , “ forged into the cognitive chains which bind the m inds of the w orking c la s s ” (Strike, 1989, p. 137). In a w ord, reproduction th eo ry lacked a co n cep t o f agency. A lm ost overnight, re ­ production th eo ry w ould give way to resistance theory.

From Reproduction to Resistance In his widely read Learning to L a b o u r, Paul Willis (1981) introduced

the co n cep t o f resistan ce to an eager audience disenchanted w ith re p ro ­ duction theory. Willis ob serv ed th at the working class boys he studied resisted both the official and hidden curriculum o f their English secondary school. T he ro o ts o f this re sistan c e, he w rote, “ are in the shop-floor cultures occupied by th eir family m em bers and o th er m em bers o f their class” (G iroux, 1983b, p. 283). W illis’s concept o f resistance allowed politically oriented scholars to view the process of reproduction as co n ­ testable, thereb y correcting the nondialecticism o f the Bowles and G intis (1976) thesis.

The early 1980s saw considerable discussion o f resistance theory. P ar­ ticularly during the period 1980-1984, m any scholars discussed and de­ veloped resistan ce in term s o f curriculum (e.g., see A nyon, 1979, 1988; Apple, cited in O lson, 1981; A pple, 1982a, 1982b; Apple & W eis, 1983; G iroux, 1981a, 1983a, 1983b). G iroux cited resistan ce theory as im portant insofar as it co rrec te d the failure of both conservative and radical cu r­ riculum theory. C o n serv ativ es, he alleged, tended to view oppositional behavior via psychological categories such as deviate, disruptive, and inferior. Radical th eo rists had overem phasized econom ic and cultural d e­ term inants. Put differently, in radical curriculum theory th ere had been an “ underem phasis on how hum an agency accom m odates, m ediates and resists the logic o f capital and its dom inating social p ra c tic e s,” including school curriculum and instruction (G iroux, 1983b, p. 282). As noted above, G iroux ch a rac te rized the rep ro d u ctio n theory o f the 1970s as a

170 Review of Research in Education, 18

“ discourse o f d e sp a ir,” as it ignored the pedagogical possibilities of hum an thought and enlightened action.

In his introduction to G iro u x ’s Ideology, Culture and the P rocess o f Schooling (1981a), Stanley A ronow itz advocated resistance as a positive step for radical ed u cato rs. R adical ed u cato rs should begin to concentrate on the “ cracks and disjunctions created by oppositional fo rc e s” (A ron­ ow itz, cited in G iroux, 1981a, p. 31). Doing so would perm it the co n tes­ tation o f pow er in the schools. G iroux asse rted that struggles can be w aged over adm inistrative and curricular issues. R eproduction failed to inspire struggle; it w as, in G iro u x ’s w ords, a “ m yth o f total dom ination” (Giroux, 1981a, p. 99).

A special issue o f Interch ange, edited by Paul Olson and published in 1981, illustrated the rapid shift from reproduction to resistance theory. A collection o f papers from a conference held at the O ntario In stitu te for Studies in E d u catio n in T oro n to , the issue was titled “ R ethinking Social R ep ro d u c tio n .” In his introduction, Olson (1981) noted that “ social co n ­ stru ctiv ists” w ished to integrate know ledge o f hegem ony with strategies design to co u n ter it. In his essay titled “ R eproduction, C ontestation, and Curriculum : An E ssay in S elf-C riticism ,” M ichael A pple notes that his previous w ork lacked analysis th at “ focused on contradictions, conflicts, m ediations and especially re sista n c e — as well as rep ro d u ctio n ” (Apple, 1981, p. 35). H e cautions his audience, how ever, th at it is not enough to conduct re searc h into resistan ce; one m ust actually resist, in practice.

In G iro u x ’s “ H egem ony, R esistance, and the P aradox o f E ducational R efo rm ,” the outline o f his scholarly agenda for the decade is evident. D iscussing the asse ts and liabilities o f reproduction theory, he praises resistance th eo ries, w hich “ perform a theoretical serv ic e” (Giroux, 1981b, p. 13). T hese theories dem and analyses of those social practices that co n stitu te the class-based experiences o f day-to-day existence in schools. H e calls fo r the developm ent of a notion of radical pedagogy based on the pioneering w ork o f Paulo F reire (1970/1971). “ At the core of radical p ed a g o g y ,” G iroux insists, “ m ust be the aim of em pow ering people to w ork fo r change in the social, political, and econom ic stru ctu re that co n stitu tes the ultim ate source o f class-based pow er and dom ination (Giroux, 1981b, p. 24). (C uriously, the concept o f em pow erm ent— used by relatively few radical curriculum theorists in 1981— would becom e educational cliche by the 1990s.) F o r G iroux, how ever, resistance theory quickly becom es a transitional concept to pedagogy.

In 1982, M ichael Apple published tw o w orks examining issues o f re ­ production and resistan ce. In his introduction to Cultural and Economic Reproduction in E ducation , A pple distinguishes betw een tw o form s of reproduction th eo ry , th at w hich focuses on econom ic or m acrostructural issues and th at w hich co n c en trate s on cultural or m icrostructural m atters.

Pinar and Bowers: Politics of Curriculum 171

A ccording to A pple, the school curriculum belongs to the latter category. A cknow ledging difficulties with “ p u re ” reproduction th eo ry , A pple sug­ gests th at resistan ce and rep ro d u ctio n theory are intertw ined, th at studies inspired by this synthetical view would point to struggles in specific places. H e alludes to issues o f race, class, and gender, foreshadow ing his own scholarly agenda for the decade.

In an essay titled “ C urricular F orm and the Logic o f Technical C o n tro l,” A pple (1982a) outlines the p ervasiveness of resistance. H e al­ ludes to developm ents such as the so-called po ststru ctu ralism , w hich he depicts favorably, an attitu d e tow ard th at w ork th at would change. C on­ cluding the essay is a discussion o f resistan ces, especially those curricular sites of resistance. D espite increasing state control, A pple declares, there are m om ents o f individual resistan ce. T e a c h e rs’ resistance is said to be n ever “ far from the su rfa c e ” (Apple, 1982a, p. 269). The question b e­ com es, W hat is the status o f th ese resistan ces? A re they, in fact, coun- terhegem onic? O r do th ey function to rep ro d u ce the status quo? Willis n otes, for instance, th at the resistan ce of his “ la d s” functioned re p ro ­ d u c e vely: T heir re sistan c e to m ental labor functioned to reproduce their entrapm ent in the w orking class.

In his second 1982 w ork, A pple continues his exam ination o f resistance theory and, in particu lar, the possible reproductive consequences o f re ­ sistance. Apple w orries th at even the terrain of resistance can be viewed as determ ined by the in tere sts o f capital, not by those resisting (Apple, 1982b). D espite re sistan c e, A pple concludes, reproduction proceeds. In fact, he continues, rep ro d u ctio n will continue “ as long as the penetrations into the nature of w ork and control generated by w orking-class youths and their p aren ts are unorganized and unpoliticized” (Apple, 1982b, p. 108). Only a few years after its introduction, then, resistance itself seem ed to be in danger of being sw allow ed by reproduction.

Tw o im portant efforts to u n d ersta n d the curriculum as a political tex t appeared in 1983: H enry A. G iro u x ’s Theory and R esistance in Education: A P edagogy fo r the O pposition and M ichael W. Apple and Lois W eis’s Ideology and P ractice in Schooling. In both books, one discerns m ove­ m ents aw ay from resistan ce th eo ry . F o r G iroux, resistance points to p o s­ sibilities o f oppositional pedagogy (1983a). H e calls for a reform ulation o f the relations am ong ideology, culture, and hegem ony, one th at would “ m ake clear the w ays in w hich these categories can enhance o ur u n d er­ standing o f re sistan c e as well as how such concepts can form the th e o …