Hongyu Wang A Curriculum Scholar Review by Ge Gao for EDU 5265 Internationalization of Curriculum Studies

Hongyu Wang A Curriculum Scholar Review by Ge Gao for EDU 5265 Internationalization of Curriculum Studies

Hongyu Wang, a famous scholar in curriculum studies, now works at the School of Teaching and Curriculum Leadership in Oklahoma State University. She was born in China, and after she got her M. A. degree in East China Normal University, she went to the U.S. to further her studies. In 2001, she received her Ph. D. degree in Louisiana State University. She authored and co-authored many books as well as published many articles in prestigious journals within the field of curriculum studies both in Chinese and English, for example, her book The call from the stranger on a journey home: Curriculum in a third space was widely read and reviewed by famous curriculum scholars such as William Pinar and Lynda Stone. What’s more, she is a co-editor and translator of many famous works. From her works, she demonstrates her research interests in curriculum theory, nonviolence education, cross-cultural inquiry, life history and currere, and psyche and education.

I began to read her works because her educational backgrounds and experiences are similar to me, as both of us studied in China before studying abroad, and we both face the task of reconceptualizing our identities and negotiating the differences between Chinese traditions and another cultural ideology. While reading her works, I find that she regards her transnational and cross-cultural experiences as a journey for self-transformation and self-creation, a journey that generates many insights in curriculum studies. In this scholar review, I will mainly focus on four themes of her works: multicultural and intercultural curriculum; a creative third space; autobiography and currere; educational concerns and pedagogical implications.

Multicultural and Intercultural Curriculum

Hongyu Wang has rich teaching and learning experiences in China and the U.S. and the encounter with different cultures enables her to achieve a sensibility of cross-cultural issues. She engages in multicultural education. In Aporia, Responsibility, and Im/possibility of Teaching Multicultural Education, Wang (2005) uses Derrida’s concept of aporia, which indicates a state of contradiction and dilemma that cannot be resolved permanently, to explain that there are four contradictions in multicultural classroom, which are teacher’s authority and student’s agency, self and other, center and margin, and intellect and emotion. She analyzes each aporia in order to show that those contradictions could bring many possibilities to multicultural education and enable the self-transformation of teachers and students. Teacher’s authority can be used to maintain class order, however, Wang (2005) refuses to use the institutional authority to overrule students’ biases, and she emphasizes that teachers should respect students’ thoughts and their senses of self. Another contradiction is self and other. Openness to the other doesn’t mean the denial of self, but is a process of reaffirmation of self that enables self-transformation. What’s more, the aporia of center and margin requires that teachers of multicultural classrooms should acknowledge the differences between center and margin to avoid the invisible privilege. It is important to “challenge privileged students to step out of the central position and see the landscape differently” (Wang, 2005, p.57), as well as to encourage marginalized students to develop their own voices. Finally, learning process is not only intellectual but also emotional. When emotions are articulated, according to Wang (2005), a bridge is built between affects and words, and when emotions resist expression, students can find a way to their inner world.

Learning from her views, we should question our own teaching and learning experiences about multicultural education. When those apporias happen in the classroom, do we eager to find solutions or encourage students to experience them? The institutional authority is widely used by teachers to impose certain ideology and knowledge to students, and this external imposition stops students’ critical thinking and inner transformation. Also, when asking hard questions, some teachers think that students’ silence in class is awkward and uncomfortable, thus they tend to give their answers immediately rather than encourage students to think, to meditate and to search for the languages that can express their emotions. The failure to acknowledge class contradictions puts an end on students’ thinking and makes multicultural education impossible. Wang’s idea about acknowledging the possibilities of aporias asks teachers and students to step out of the comfort zone, to challenge the egocentric thinking and stereotypes, so that multicultural education would become possible.

Besides multicultural education, Wang also engages in cross-cultural thoughts in order to develop intercultural curriculum. Wang (2009) discusses how Feng Youlan and Alan Watts, who have different and even opposite cultural backgrounds, opened to another culture. She, by analyzing Youlan’s and Watts’ life experiences and thoughts, finds that although they had different ways of cross-cultural engagements and followed different paths to open to another culture, their cross-cultural engagements helped them to reaffirm self and other, and thus to transform both. On the way for opening to another culture, Wang (2009) also reminds us that we cannot idealize the other or use “the other’s perspective as a way to cure one’s own problems” (p.46). When helping students to open to a different culture, educators can learn from her analysis which demonstrates that cross-cultural engagement has multiple paths. The task of educators is to establish a stimulating class environment that encourages students’ cross-cultural thoughts rather than forcing them to follow the same path. We cannot teach cultures as fixed facts that students have to memorize and understand, because cultures themselves are dynamic and “the demand for students to understand everything…drains the vitality, imagination, and creativity out of learning” (Wang, 2009, p. 49). I agree that the unknown sometimes is more generative. For example, children are always curious about the world, and they have questions such as why the sky is blue and why there are four seasons. When they learn the knowledge, they would take these phenomena for granted. This could also apply to intercultural curriculum. Teachers should encourage students to find their own paths so they can remain curious, imaginative and creative on their way.

A Creative Third Space

Hongyu Wang, a Chinese woman teaching in America, often travels back and forth between Chinese culture and American culture. Wang (2006) illustrates that she carries different layers of life at the same time, including the Chinese rural life, Chinese city life and American university teaching life. In order to reconceptualize her identity, she was searching for a space where cultural and gendered differences could become generative and creative. In her book The call from the stranger on a journey home: Curriculum in a third space, through her engagement with the philosophies of Confucius, Foucault and Kristeva, Wang (2004) creates a interactive dialogue between Chinese and Western culture from which she finds a third space, in which “both parts of a conflicting double… interact with and transform each other, especially through the multiplicity of the self, giving rise to new realms of inter/subjectivity” (Wang, 2004, p.16). Wang (2004) suggests that it is a transformative space that can create a conversation between both cultures, and the aim is not to achieve consensus, but to achieve a richer and deeper understanding of both. When I read the notion of a third space, I questioned that whether this is another static space that synthesizes both forces. Wang (2007a) answers it by emphasizing that “a third space is unsettling and never settled down” (p.390) which is unpredictable. In this space, the dual forces open to each other and transform each other, thus our identity is no longer fixed. Understanding this, I can better conceive my identity as a Chinese student studying in Canada. The openness to Canadian culture helps me to better conceive the Chinese culture, thus both cultures transform each other and help me to achieve a fluid and dynamic identity under the dual forces of Chinese city life and Canadian university life.

In addition, a third space is applicable to the dual forces between globalization and indigenization. Wang (2006) argues that we should take our position in a fluid and dynamic third space between the local and global. Because globalization is a double-edged sword that brings both possibilities and challenges to education, both total globalization and total indigenization are biased and dangerous. A third space enables students to reconcile their local and global identities, and connect their lived curriculum with other global citizens. Wang’s notion about a third space is pedagogical and educational, because under globalization, students have more opportunities to meet different cultures and ideologies in their real life as well as in the virtual community. To create a third space in the curriculum could make them better understand their dynamic identity and avoid getting lost in the virtual world. Educators can create a dialogue and conversation between both local and global cultures and values, and encourage students to see both differently.

Autobiography and Currere

Another contribution Wang makes to the field of curriculum studies is that she engages in autobiographical inquiry and using autobiography as a method to help students negotiate their multiple identities. In her articles, we can often locate the juxtaposition of her autobiographical voice and theoretical voice. Wang (2006) believes that using autobiography in curriculum studies is a meaning-making process, which enables students to transform their educational experiences by linking their school knowledge with life history. This connection could build a bridge between the knowledge of the outside world and students’ inner world. Autobiographical inquiry enables the creation of a third space, as it not only helps students to engage with the other, but also the unknown within the self.

Besides autobiography, Wang also focuses on the method of currere in teaching. She applied the four steps of currere that formulated by Pinar, which are the “regressive, progressive, analytical, and synthetical” (Wang, 2010, p.276) in teacher education programs. By analyzing her students’ currere writings, she found that all four steps involve both cognitive functions and emotional responses. According to Wang (2010), the method of currere encourages students to express their hard emotions in their writings, by which they can unburden the past and embrace future with all possibilities. Those four steps of currere redraw “the boundary of past, present and future to encourage an inner experience of time that enables a transformative re-entry into the present” (Wang, 2010, p.282).

Wang’s projects with autobiography and currere remind me that as educators, we should help students to find a way to their inner worlds. We should attend to students’ voices and provide feedbacks without being judgmental. Educators need to rethink the current educational practice. Do we engage with students’ voices or do we silence them by asking them to conform to writing rules and judging them through manageable results? Those rules and standardized tests create new wounds for students. We should create a dynamic dialogue, by engaging with students’ currere writings and providing stimulating feedbacks and questions, which can release more possibilities in education and motivate students to think rather than suppress them.

Educational Concerns and Pedagogical Implications

Wang’s rich teaching experiences in both America and China help her to become aware of educational problems, and her Chinese educational backgrounds provide her with some traditional educational philosophies that could give her some insights to question current educational practice. Wang (2007b), by analyzing Chinese neo-Confucian philosopher Wang Yang-ming’s theory about the unity of knowing and being, challenges the current separation between theory and practice in education. The implication that theories are generated by scholars and practice is conducted by teachers “devaluates teachers’ and educational researchers’ work” (Wang, 2007b, p.23). Wang suggests that we should unify theory and practice so that both of them can be embodied in research and teaching. Her integration of the ancient Chinese philosophies and current educational practice creates a dialogue between Chinese and Western culture, and between ancient theory and modern education, which demonstrates a dynamic third space.

Wang also criticizes the use of standardized tests to sustain national superiority. Wang (2007b) recognizes that education is a long-term project that cannot be assessed through immediate and manageable results. She focuses on inner cultivation of personhood and students’ self-transformation rather than external values. Her thoughts invite us to return to the basic question about the nature of knowledge and the role of education. Standardized tests now dominate teaching practices, and education is regarded as a means to economic and political ends. Teachers, scholars and researchers should work together to challenge the instrumental views of education and engage a curriculum that attends to students inner voices and encourages them to embrace knowledge.


I began to read Hongyu Wang’s article in order to learn how she reconceptualized her identity and reconciled the differences between Chinese culture and America culture. I found that she didn’t try to find consensus among differences, but engaged in finding how to generate more educational possibilities through differences. She contributes to curriculum studies in many ways. With her transnational experiences, she focuses on multicultural curriculum and the inquiry of autobiography and currere, as well as how to form dynamic identities in a third space. Her educational concerns enable the reader to question current teaching practices and to find a way to create more educational possibilities.


Wang, H. (2004). The call from the stranger on a journey home: Curriculum in a third space. New York: Peter Lang.

Wang, H. (2005). Aporia, responsibility, and im/possibility of teaching multicultural education, Educational Theory, 55(1), 45-59.

Wang, H. (2006). Globalization and curriculum studies: Tensions, challenges and possibilities. Journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Curriculum Studies, 2.

Wang, H. (2007a). Creating a third space: A response to Professor Stone. Studies in Philosophy and Education, 26(4), 389-393.

Wang, H. (2007b). Theory/practice as self-self relationship. Journal of Curriculum and Pedagogy, 4(1), 75-80.

Wang, H. (2009). Life history and cross-cultural thought: Engaging an intercultural curriculum. Transnational Curriculum Inquiry, 6(2), 37-50.

Wang, H. (2010). The temporality of currere, change, and teacher education. Pedagogies: An International Journal, 5(4), 275-285.