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Journal of Curriculum and Supervision
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Spring 1998 | Volume 13 | Number 3
Pages 287-296

“Reconceptualist” and “Dominant” Perspectives in Curriculum Theory: What Do They Have to Say to Each Other?

William A. Reid

The field of curriculum is complex, ramified, multifaceted, full of idiosyncrasy. But this article is not about the field of curriculum as a whole: it is about two major perspectives which—in books, papers, and conferences—have tended to dominate it over the last 20 years: the “Reconceptualist Perspective” and the “Dominant Perspective.” The first was, I believe, so named by William Pinar and was celebrated in his substantial edited volume, Curriculum Theorizing: The Reconceptualists, which appeared in 1975.1  The second was described by Philip Jackson in the introduction to his 1992 Handbook of Curriculum Research, in which he explained how, successively, Bobbitt, Tyler, and Schwab had all been engaged in a common enterprise and had each propounded their own version of the perspective “at different stages of its development.”2  Both Pinar and Jackson, in their choice of title, made a somewhat extravagant claim: “Reconceptualist” implies newness in a field in which, we must suspect, there is very little that's new to be said, and “Dominant” implies a superiority that is at odds with the facts. However, in a situation in which we have claims of dominance and counterclaims of a clean sweep and a fresh beginning, we may legitimately ask the question, Do these perspectives actually have something to say to each other? Or are they pursuing incompatible agendas?

In attempting to answer these questions, I follow Pinar and Jackson in postulating a basic agreement among Reconceptualists and Dominants centering around an equally basic disagreement: Should we approve of or deplore proposals to design curriculums through the application of “scientific” principles? (For other purposes, of course, we might be more interested in the ways in which neither of the groups presents a unified front.3  ) But, though the rhetoric of the dialogue between Reconceptualists and Dominants has been antagonistic, the less than clear-cut nature of the controversy in this diverse field should prompt us to ask: What do they have to say to each other?


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