The space-race and the field of curriculum study changed on October 4th 1957, when the Soviet Union successfully launched their simplest satellite, prosteishy sputnik (PS1), more commonly known as Sputnik I. In the 1960s, following perceived weaknesses in American science education, the National Science Foundation were tasked with far-reaching curriculum reform measures.
In the words of William Pinar (1978a), “Curricularists were used infrequently during this time, and then primarily as consultants. This bypass was a kind of deathblow to a field whose primary justification was its expertise in an area now dominated by cognate-field specialists” (p. 6).
This, coupled with economic issues and dissatisfaction with the traditionalist approach to curriculum theory based on Tyler (2013), led Pinar to identify a movement toward a new curriculum theory. A movement from technical curriculum development to something more akin to curriculum understanding—a reconceptualization of the field, also termed a “new curriculum theory” (Pinar, 1978b, p. 205). Both terms, Pinar stated, suggested more “thematic unity among the curriculum writing characterized as the ‘reconceptualization’ than, upon close examination, appear[ed] to exist.” (p. 206)
Pinar himself has had some historical difficulty in defining the term reconceptualization and it’s adherents, “[t]he answer, at this point, is a slippery one” (Pinar, 1978b, p. 205). Finding it easier to discuss what the reconceptualization was not. It was not the “conventional wisdom” (p. 205) of the traditionalist proponents of the Tyler Rationale, who focused their efforts on being of service to teachers and the passing themes of school concerns (Pinar, 1978a, 1978b).
Reconceptualists did not take the view that education was an area to be studied by specialists, rather than an area of specialism in itself. Those who took this view, Pinar referred to as conceptual-empiricists. Their work was based on the methodological testing of hypotheses in the manner of mainstream social science, and was typified by researchers such as Posner & Strike (1976).
Pinar (1978a, 1978b, 1988) has argued that a reconceptualist, sees research as both an academic and political phenomenon. Working to “suppress, or to liberate” (Pinar, 1978b, p. 210) both researcher and participant, as well as “those outside the academic subculture” (p. 210). Epitomising Pinar’s reconceptualization, is the notion of currere, a self-analysis of educational experiences, an on-going, complicated conversation with oneself as the private intellectual, which allows for growth and interaction with the public sphere of pedagogy (Pinar, 2012).
Interestingly, Pinar has also stated that the reconceptualization is “fundamentally an intellectual phenomenon, not an interpersonal-affiliative one” (Pinar, 1978b, p. 211), and “[t]here is no reconceptualist point of view, or even points of view” (Pinar, 1988, p. 167). Yet publications such as the Journal of Curriculum Theorizing and the American Educational Research Association, Critical Issues in Curriculum and Cultural Studies Special Interest Group, show that Pinar’s reconceptualization has grown from “an opposition to the mainstream field and its tradition” in the 1970s, to “become the field, complicated, with several centers of theoretical formation” (p. 167). In fact, Pinar has suggested that the “reconceptualization has occurred” (p. 167).
Talking Point: I would suggest that the move from traditionalist curriculum development, to a focus of curriculum understanding may have occurred, but the process of that understanding is the essence of currere, an on-going complicated conversation that is a dynamic phenomenon, unique to every learner.
As something that is intrinsically interpretive, in the same way that curriculum is interpreted by teacher and student, the notion of currere would seem to be an adaptive, all-encompassing description of curriculum.
Curriculum itself adapts to teacher and student interpretation, and encompasses learning as a whole.
In this sense, by providing a concept of the enigmatic currere, and failing to provide a succinct definition of the reconceptualization of curriculum theory, has Pinar hit upon a theory which manages to encapsulate the multi-faceted nature of curriculum?