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William H. Schubert

Curriculum studies can be characterized by dominant questions asked by those who have participated in the field over the years. Most of the questions that have dominated inquiry and praxis are variations on the central curriculum question: What is worthwhile? In the mid-19th century, the focus was on what knowledge was deemed most worthwhile, especially for elementary and secondary education, as nations began to take charge of what was taught and learned in schools. Most of the questions that characterize curriculum history continued to be debated and studied throughout the 20th century and into the 21st century. Arguments ensued about how developmental appropriateness, school and nonschool experience, and science or efficiency contributed to an understanding of what is worthwhile. Curriculum scholars and curriculum workers continue to address how to meet individual and social interests and needs and how curriculum of education should improve society. Curriculum studies offers guiding questions for studying, reflecting on, developing, or enacting curriculum derived from publications of curriculum scholars and policy makers. After the middle of the 20th century, many of the previously established questions were challenged by new generations of curriculum scholars who criticized the dominance of powerful political, racial, gender, and cultural groups in determining what should be taught and learned in schools; that is, the sources of what human beings should be and become. They questioned the capability of schools as institutions of nations that have become corporate states to guide this task for the benefit of all. Critiques have continued to proliferate regarding who benefits and who is harmed by questions that guide curriculum scholarship, policy, and practice in schools and all other societal institutions and relationships that educate. Much discrimination has been identified that provides markedly less educational benefit to those who are not part of the majority culture. The interests of wealthy White males are often privileged, and the needs of racial and ethnic minorities, the poor, those who have disabilities, and those who are otherwise different are harmed. Moreover, the purposes of education in schooling seem to be to advance the benefits accorded to powerful and privileged groups. To understand this situation, curriculum scholars have drawn upon questions derived from critical theory and cultural studies. Curriculum studies literature also offers ideas for creating curricula that benefit more of humanity throughout the world, as well as seeking insights from many different world cultures, including indigenous and grassroots ones. A larger question deals with the extent to which humans are able to construct educational opportunities wherein all are educated in worthwhile ways. Struggles over meanings of “worthwhile” continue to resound throughout curriculum studies scholarship and its influence on educational policy and practice and concomitant impacts on the world.