Patricia Palulis: A curriculum Scholar Review by Alison Gurr for EDU 6102 Seminar in Curriculum Studies Research

Patricia Palulis: A curriculum Scholar Review by Alison Gurr for EDU 6102 Seminar in Curriculum Studies Research

The labour of knowing. (Palulis & Low, 2008)

In order to be able to begin reading what it means to read, one must open oneself to the idea that what is read is only a momentary recognition. It is perhaps a fleeting response to a pulse or rhythm. Julian Wolfreys in Readings (as cited in Palulis & Low 2008, p. 15)

I find myself sitting uncomfortably at a desk, time constantly moving, drawing closer to an end, struggling with her texts, drawing a parallel between her own experience of “not knowing what he (Aoki) was saying….How to translate? She didn’t understand and strained to make sense of what she could not grasp” (Palulis & Low, 2008). I can’t pay attention, and yet, as I force myself to read through/into the text and grasp fragments of insight, I have moments of clarity before the window slams shut and confusion and frustration settle in again. Seeking the opportunity to understand, much as Dr. Pat Palulis sought her own understanding, I am allowing my learning, my mind, an illusion to control to drift. Pat opened herself to the unexpected, as I am prepared to do as well.

Dr. Palulis was “able to keep herself excited about teaching by radical changes in geographic locations. Out-of-country” (Palulis & Low, 2008). Her career in pedagogy spans 20 years of teaching in Canada, England, Japan and Libya where she admits to “exporting her curriculum, confessing to “trafficking in English” (Palulis & Low, 2008). Throughout her journey from the elementary classroom to the university classroom, she has struggled with the “colonization mechanisms” that our “land of Academia” (Palulis, 2009) programs into its professors, pre-service teachers and in turn the students’ students, resulting in a perpetuation of hegemonic control. She argues, “there is a gap that is still alive and this is where the work must be done. Not to close the gap but to work in the gap. To work in the space of the wound” (Palulis, 2009). The gap is a vibrant space, “a condition through which newness comes into the world” (Bhabha as cited in Palulis & Low, 2001, p. 45). It’s in the gap that creative exploration begins, where one can become an active participant. It is the place where thought can be expansive and bounding or simple and reflective, where one can experience transformative change and perhaps, in the process, leave a trace of ourselves for others to live through.


Her influences include Derrida, Bhabha, Aoki, Cixous and Minh-ha and engaging with their works she has discovered themes of spatiality, art, language, and culture that have helped her to find her academic language and pave her way to expression that opens and explores the (un)known found in the infinite discourse of pedagogy. The parallels I find with her struggles are uncanny. I silently scream, yes, when she describes her anxieties when Aoki challenges her to experience the disruptions to the order of obedient writing.

Steeped in these readings were unfamiliar ways of structuring words, constituting meanings beyond my knowing. Aokian inscriptions–‘layered voices’, ‘measures of the immeasurable’, ‘uncannily correct’, ‘elusively true’, – disrupted my fluency; these were not the docile words of the educational texts I had been reading. Halted by his words, I struggled to categorize, pin down, the genesis of his author(ity). (Palulis & Low, 2008)

She adds in reading on and off the page, “shifting from a place driven by clarity and the presumed transparency of language to a space of messiness burdened with ambiguities and contradictions – a space itself constantly contested – is a risk” (Palulis & Low, 2008). Am I comfortable as a reader and writer in theses risky chasms? Not yet, but as Pat has journeyed, so to(o) will I.

I spent a term with Pat, at Ottawa University, engaged in/with Language Arts. She was Professor Palulis. I assumed she would deliver to me the definitive tools I needed to become a primary/junior educator. I assumed there would be an order to the process, a formula, a package of goods that would steer me down my road to understanding the necessary steps we each take in acquiring language. I, like her, had been taught to be in command of language, to use language “to mean what we intend” (Palulis & Low, 2008). Much like Aoki challenged her, she challenged us to set aside the prescribed curriculum for the lived curriculum, to dwell with, and around the (dis)order of text. “Studying with Ted Aoki means learning to crack-the-words so that another textual event might happen” (Palulis, 2004). Studying with Pat Palulis meant embracing and confronting (un)certainty. Our conversations were never predictable and ordered but flowed from the personal landscapes we each shared. We weaved meaning from our lived experiences into the fabric of our learning. Pat guided us on a journey of exploration and discovery, not only through the Land of Academia with its potential roadblocks and hazards, but also through glorious stretches of the imagined. She assured us that it was “okay to let things get messy as you try new approaches and experiment with your students. As long as you keep your goals in mind, it doesn’t matter how unstructured things become”(Palulis, Notes from a class, 2010). Perhaps to pause and (re)write curriculum, to embrace the spaces, we give permission to our students/selves to reflect, to make meaning, to wander, to skip and dance with words and thought, to make learning valuable and delightful.


My teaching life as an academic writes and is written by words and worlds of difference…my teaching identities are remarked by geographic and ethnographic dislocations and relocations across continents-midst fragments of [lost] languages and cultures. (Morawski & Palulis, 2009)

Pat works in the marginal topographies of language and culture where language is often undone with/in colonial power. In Messy (W)rites of Passage she stresses, “the spaces midst multiple languages invite discursive traces to emerge” (2001, p. 45) encircling one in slivers of a lived experience. To lose this to “restricted meaning making in well intentioned acts of pedagogy” (Palulis & Low, 2001, p. 45) is reckless. To be su(tor)tured to/by the academic dictate of convention interrupts a flow of possibility.

My readings in human geography disorient me. Pedagogy has never been the same – now fraught with fault-lines, tectonic plates and a colonial presence. I am unable to speak the standard dialect of Academia. The dialect that holds the power. Standards elude me. Benchmarks horrify me. I remain speechless on rubrics. I have been contaminated by Hélène Cixous and Trinh T. Minh-ha. (Palulis, 2009)

She places great emphasis on relations of and across space and place and joyfully embraces that momentous and uncanny instance where a connection is made and we are startled by its purity. “Drawn into texts that seem to perform, take multiple paths, articulate fragments, leads her to language [that] disrupts and refuses to be contained within boundaries” (Palulis & Low, 2000, p. 73). This is the essence of expression, free from external censorship, free to be ones own teaching and learning, liberated from the constraints of time and place yet tethered by time and place by ones own convenience.


Arts based pedagogy (in)forms Pat’s rebellion against the consuming structure of schooling and played a joyful part in my collaboration with her in our Language Arts class. “Anesthetized by her own schooling, she works to disrupt what we ‘do’ to children in the name of hegemonic literacy…only the angry edgy remains remain as remains evoking in me a radical responsibility to create the conditions for messy spaces. Her interest in arts-based pedagogy began in the Arctic working with Inuit students in collaboration with an innovative art teacher”(Morawski & Palulis, 2009).  Reader’s theatre, body biographies, puppetry, graffiti, collage, cartooning and the musicality and cadence of language guide the reader/writer/artist journey. Art takes time, but one can argue so does learning.

I imagine that Pat’s work is not yet done, it remains undone, refuses to be done. I sense her urging to “engage in acts of subversion and ‘earth quaking’ in curriculum” (Palulis & Low, 2005, p. 8). In understanding her willingness and encouragement to dwell in the (un)certainty of living pedagogy, I appreciate the need to seek the gap between the planned and the unplanned, to trace the contours of its topography, and linger in its presence. I have come to an end, I have experienced the de(light) in chasing, wrestling, tasting her words, her thoughts and theories. I, like her, “am grateful for the questions – for the questions that never stop asking. So that the gap is never filled” (Palulis & Low, 2008, p. 19). After a breath, I will begin again, begin to (re)view, (re)visit, re(enter) her texts and others in my voyage.


Morawski, C. M., & Palulis, P. (2009). Auto/ethno/graphies as Teaching Lives. Journal of Curriculum Theorizing , 25 (2).

Palulis, P. (2009). Geo-literacies in a strange land: Academic vagabonds provoking a pied. Educational Insights , 13 (4), 1-13.

Palulis, P. (2004). Laboured Breathing: Running with and against internationalising texts of currere: A response to the reviewers’ comments. Transnational Curriculum Inquiry , 1 (1), 90-91.

Palulis, P. (2010, October 15). Notes from a class. Ottawa, ON, Canada.

Palulis, P., & Low, M. (2001). Messy (W)rites of Passage:Disrubting Circum-scriptions through Doublings of Difference. Journal of Curriculum Theorizing , 39-58.

Palulis, P., & Low, M. (2008, February 23). reading on and off the page. Retrieved February 22, 2012 from Working the Borders:

Palulis, P., & Low, M. (2000). Teaching as a Messy Text. Journal of Curriculum Theorizing , 67-79.

Palulis, P., & Low, M. (2005). The (im)possibilities of collecting conversations(s): a material event that refuses closure. Journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Curriculum Studies , 1, 1-19.

Triggs, V. Geo-Literacies in a strange land:Academic vagabonds provoking a pied. (photo credit)