What is Curriculum Theory- A Reader Response by Nagin Alibabaiy

What is Curriculum Theory- A Reader Response by Nagin Alibabaiy

In What is Curriculum Theory? Pinar uses Weimar Germany to illustrate the present curricular circumstances in the United States. This, as a mere idea, seems impractical. How could the social and political happenings of Germany, nearly one century ago, provide insight into current educational practices in North America? I came to realize that to deny this historical relationship is to deny the intricacy and interconnectedness of human behaviour – which transcends time and place.

The Nazi party came to power in 1933, marking the end of the Weimar Republic and the end of “democracy” in Germany. In turn, totalitarian dictatorship ruled Germany for an entire decade – a time in history known for its radical ideologies and detrimental global movements. What Pinar manages to provide, however, is a comprehensive explanation (not to be confused with justification) as to how such a gross error like Word War II could occur. Returning home after the loss of World War I, Germans were greeted with psychological and physical distress, poverty, political and economic instability, and not to mention, global public humiliation. Deemed responsible for the war, it was required to pay reparations – a debt of nearly 164 billion Marks (Pinar, 2011, p. 88). The government’s decision to print the money, however, is what triggered inflation and sent the country into grave economic instability (Pinar, 2011, p. 88). By 1924, the German currency had collapsed completely (Pinar, 2011, p. 87). Of course, economic instability alone does not cause an entire country to turn to totalitarian rule. What Pinar explains is that democracy, in fact, never stood a chance.

Despite the establishment of the Republic, the foundation necessary for the success of democracy in Germany was not in place. From the beginning enemies of the Republic were not only open, but also aggressive, in their opposition. The political landscape, Pinar (2011) explains, was an “ongoing state of emergency” (p. 75). By using the Jews as “scapegoats” (Pinar, 2011, p. 73), the generals responsible for Germany’s defeat in World War I had regained political support. The Great Depression provided the Nazis with the exact final catastrophe needed to ensure the Republic’s decline and to instate their position of authority. Critical to note, however, is the continual condemnation of Jews by the Nazis in this time. An entire country had grown to accept – no matter how irrational and removed from reason this accusation may have been – that the Jews had been responsible for Germany’s defeat in the war and ensuing economic calamity. Germans were desperate and the Nazis had offered them a “way out”.

Up until this point in my academic studies, I had yet to examine how, by recounting the events of Weimar Germany, one might better understand the current educational landscape of North America. Initially, I found this chapter to be extremely far removed from my reality and could not make any personal connections with the material. What I had to ask myself, then, was simple. Why is this (what happened in Weimer Germany) important? I believe the answer to be that what happened in Germany could have happened anywhere. Yes, the social, economic, and political conditions were especially “right” for such a devastation to occur in Germany, but no one [country] is immune to the effects of, as Pinar (2011) explains, “political polarization, destabilization, scapegoating, and demonization” (p. 7). The Germans, as I see it, were enslaved by war, poverty, and most importantly, ignorance.

I do not, however, intend to relieve Germans of accountability by suggesting that they were “victims” to circumstance. Circumstance, in my opinion, is not a cause or reason for action – more specifically, action that is wrong. Stating otherwise separates the individual from his choices and relieves him of any responsibility. What I do intend to suggest is that what lead Germans to turn to totalitarian dictatorship and to accept the ludicrous assertion that Jews were responsible for the impoverishment of Germany is a lack of knowledge and understanding.

Education colours action. What we know and understand determines how we choose to act. And judging by their actions, German education was not founded on this principle. Consider Einstein’s commentary on the German education system: “To me,” he tells us, “the worst thing seems to be for a school principally to work with methods of fear, force, and artificial authority. Such treatment produces the submissive subject. It is no wonder that such schools are the rule in Germany…” (Pinar, 2011, p. 93). Submissiveness is exactly the word to describe German behaviour at that time. Rather than being taught to question information, to think critically, and to seek the possibilities and limitations of the national curriculum being put forth by the Nazi ruling party, Germans were taught to be submissive within what we now call a Fascist regime of truth. One does not come to believe that the sun rises in the West if reason tells him that it rises in the East. The Germans, unfortunately, believed the Nazis when they were told that the sun rose in the West.

There exists here a parallel between the kind of education previously prevalent in Germany and currently present in the United States. Pinar (2011) describes curriculum theory as “our key conveyance into the world” (p. 2). Curriculum, he explains, is the “complicated conversation between teachers and students over the past and its meaning for the present as well as what both portend for the future…” (Pinar, 2011, p. 2). He emphasizes the necessity for experience to drive learning. This in turn creates opportunity for students to engage with the curriculum, to ponder its implications, and to create their own meaning – opportunities that were missing in the German curriculum. Similarly, Pinar explains, is the case with American education. Standardized testing, he suggests, deprives students of the opportunity (and need) to think critically and independently, and teaches them to rely on – as Pinar (2011) quotes Hofstadter in saying – “authoritarian pedagogy” (p. 3). There is no room for opinion or interpretation, only rote and passive learning.Comparing American education to totalitarianism in Germany, Pinar (2011) writes, “converting public schools into cram schools institutionalizes just such authoritarianism; in doing so, school reform threatens social democracy in America” (p. 3).

What, then, is the solution? How do you raise a generation of people wise enough to resist a lie when it is offered to them in the guise of charisma and flashing lights? What I think Pinar is suggesting is that educational curriculum is a reflection of a society’s economic, political, and social state. What I would like to put forward then, is that educational curriculum is a manifestation of peoples’ thoughts. And that in order to fix the curriculum – in order to raise this generation of intellectually and morally conscious people – we must first change these thoughts. We must challenge the ideological content of the curriculum or, at least, provide opportunities for students to question it. If it is our understanding that what is important for society (and by extension, humanity) is a submissive nature and blind acceptance of authority, then how can we expect that what follows is not the establishment of a totalitarian dictatorship? If what we value in life is profit-making, then how can we protest when education is treated in terms of numbers and cents? What if, instead, our priorities were to eliminate the extremes of wealth and poverty; to provide universal education; to strive for material and spiritual excellence? What if instead of competition, materialism, and individualism, we valued cooperation, generosity, and collective prosperity? What kind of society would that create? And what would a curriculum based on such ideologies look like?

How I find Pinar’s analysis of Weimar Germany relevant to educational theory is that it provides a space for us to consider what political ideologies are at the root of our society and in turn reproduced through the school curriculum. What assumptions about such political ideological roots form our educational curriculum? And finally, what are the resulting effects of such a curriculum on students, on society, and on humanity? Do we intend to raise workers trained to maximize profit or individuals concerned for the material and spiritual welfare of a global community? These are the questions that must be asked in order to reverse the errors of the past and to create possibility for change.


Pinar, W. (2011). What is Curriculum Theory? New York, New York: Routledge.