Harvard Educational Review
  1. Curriculum Work as a Public Moral Enterprise

    Edited by Rubén Gaztambide-Fernández and James T. Sears

    Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2004. 137 pp. $22.95.

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    Growing out of a course Jim Sears taught and Rubén Gaztambide-Fernández attended at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Curriculum Work as a Public Moral Enterprise draws readers into a “complicated conversation” about curriculum theory. Nine of the book’s eleven chapters offer powerful examples of the learning that takes place when university-based professors and K–12 practitioners cross borders between university and school settings, blur distinctions between theory and practice, and then come together to write about that learning.

    Reestablishing the connection between curriculum scholars’ work and the daily world of classroom teachers, Gaztambide-Fernández’s introduction affirms these “curriculum workers” as “organic intellectuals” in the tradition of Antonio Gramsci and as agents for political change in the tradition of Paulo Friere. In chapter one, Sears builds on this framework as he traces what he calls the “turns” in the history of curriculum theory since its beginnings in the mid- to late-1800s. Both editors place this “millennial generation of curriculum workers” at a critical juncture as they teach against the trend toward a business model of efficiency, standards, and accountability. For Gaztambide-Fernández, the challenges are threefold: discursive (about the ways language shapes action and possibility for change), structural, and personal. To respond to these challenges, Sears asserts that curriculum workers must “[reengage] with practitioners who choose to work along the margins of curriculum practice . . . [as this is] the next critical turning point for our field. . . . [It] is about relearn[ing] to teach again and again.” It is “a messy process” that calls curriculum workers to “cross the borderland between theory and practice” (p. 5).

    Chapters three and four emphasize the possibilities for overcoming structural challenges, while chapters six and seven highlight the limitations that arise from taking up this difficult work. As an example of inspiring possibility, Barbara Brodhagen, a middle school teacher, and Michael Apple, a well-known curriculum theorist and professor, describe the learning that took place in a one-day collaboration between students and educators at a Wisconsin middle school. They gathered to discuss the impact economic forces and globalization have on communities world wide. This chapter underlines the ways university professors’ and beginning researchers’ work became, in Apple’s words, “more grounded [as the] theories and critical research we were developing were now linked to the experiences of the seventh-graders” (p. 33). For instance, their experience informed their discussions of reproduction and resistance to dominant power structures, with new questions about identity and the role of schools in “consistently providing alternative subject positions for students.” These explorations were not about “helping” needy students, but acted “as an impetus to the work we were committed to already — connecting ‘elegant theories’ to ‘the lives of people’” (p. 33).

    In chapter seven, university professors Morna McDermott and Toby Daspit join artist-educator Kevin Dodd to tell a story of uncertainty in three reflective monologues. When their Theatre of the Oppressed workshop did not go as expected, they discovered that democratic dialogue, like theatre, does not necessarily end in empowerment. They faced the way some participants became silenced in the “majority rules” assumption and practice of democracy, and began to see speaking and silence from new angles. Their reflections do not lead to “final answers,” but reaffirm that the messiness of their students’ and their own learning can create “an opening for alternative discourses to inform each of our future practices” (p. 82).

    Chapters eight, nine, and ten all speak to the transformative power of the personal, even in the face of discursive and structural forces. In chapter nine, Nina Asher and Michelle Haj-Broussard meet in Asher’s seminar at Louisiana State University. Haj-Broussard learns to engage in a “praxis of critical, self-reflexive interrogation” that has enabled Asher “to maintain openness and integrity between theory and practice” (p. 100). Difficult and unsettling, this work moves Haj-Broussard out of her comfort zone as a practitioner doing theory and as a White teacher examining her complicity in racist oppression. Through their autobiographical dialogue, they support and challenge each other to “unravel continually the tensions that emerge between . . . practice and . . . theory” (p. 106).

    In the closing chapter, Bill Pinar asserts that context and conditions matter — that is, that “structural conditions imposed by others, not our methods, split [theorists] from the schools” (p. 122). Indeed, this collection is testament to the creativity of those willing to cross borders in order to “advocate within the public square for a moral education in which curriculum and pedagogy for human dignity, social and economic justice, spiritual enlightenment, and peace and sustainability are the new standards of excellence” (p. 124).

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    Book Notes

    Curriculum Work as a Public Moral Enterprise
    Edited by Rubén Gaztambide-Fernández and James T. Sears

    Walking the Road
    By Marilyn Cochran-Smith

    Charter Schools
    Edited by Liane Brouillette

    Surviving Inclusion
    By Kay Johnson Lehmann

    Young Children and Trauma
    Edited by Joy D. Osofsky