09: Ng-A-Fook

Provoking Curriculum Theorizing: A Question of/for Currere, Denkbild and Aesthetics

Nicholas Ng-A-Fook

Cite this article (APA): Ng-A-Fook, N. (2011). Provoking Curriculum Theorizing: A Question of/for Currere, Denkbild and Aesthetics. Media : Culture : Pedagogy, 15(2). Retrieved from http://mcp.educ.ubc.ca/v15n02DigitalGeneration_Article09_Ng-A-Fook



This article considers how curriculum theorists can draw upon autobiographical writing strategies and emergent 2.0 technologies (Comic Life, Googling, etc.) to understand the aesthetic processes for surfing, screen capturing, and provoking a virtual narrative landscape. To do so, this article provokes the inter/disciplinary digital topographies of Canadian curriculum studies anew while remaining unfaithfully faithful to the concept of an old name like currere, in terms of its discursive narrative genealogies. As such, the article begins by tracing the vertical and horizontal autobiographical relationship to the vertical and horizontal digital narrative genealogy of the Provoking Curriculum Studies conference. The article then situates the tracing of such autobiographical and digital narrative snapshots to the theoretical concepts of currere and Denkbild. In turn, the article asks curriculum theorists to consider how they might frame future digital experimentations with curriculum theorizing as an aesthetic form of Denkbild, to provoke an uncommon countenance within the larger recurring narrative movements of Canadian curriculum studies.


The study of currere, as the Latin infinitive suggests, involves the investigation of the nature of the individual experience of the public: of artifacts, actors, operations, of the educational journey or pilgrimage.
Pinar (1975/2000, 400)

The Denkbild therefore works to create an image (Bild) in words of the ways in which it says what cannot be said. In it is a snapshot of the impossibility of its own rhetorical gestures. What it gives us to think (denken) is precisely the ways in which it delivers an image (Bild) not only of this or that particular content, but always also of its own folding back upon itself, its most successful failure.
—Richter (2007, 13)

TODAY spring announces an unseasonable lateness, yet still breaths its promise of a summer charm across the concrete coldness of this urban landscape. The end of May is nearing. Here in Ottawa, within the receding shadows of a rising sun, the Anishinabeg elders inspirit provocations of their absent presence across this capital territory. Multicolored tulips stand firmly in front of parliament hill, dancing festively, occasionally shivering, against the invisibility of a northern breeze. Meanwhile, Samuel de Champlain stands astutely on the shoulders of Canadian history behind our National Arts Gallery, scanning the shores of the Kichi Sibi, mapping out the scars of colonial trading routes where our collective memories of settlers’ dreams still bleed through time, cutting their narrative histories into the meandering banks of its tributaries. During this digital narrative navigation, the regional stories we tell ourselves as curriculum theorists, travel from initial terroirs, migrating across the backslashes of our inter/disciplinary territories, and then returning to our intellectual capital online here at M: C: P:. Such curricular recursive movements, their historical migrations across this Canadian topos, have resulted in a sustained effort to bridge and provoke a transnational conversation, always complicated and provincial among us curriculum scholars.

With the creation of the Centre for the Study of Curriculum and Instruction in the early 1980s, under the leadership of Ted Aoki, the University of British Columbia inspired a reconceptualization of curriculum studies across Canada. As Ted moved back to the University of Alberta to become Chair of the Department of Secondary Education, he continued to nurture the growth of curriculum studies in innovative ways. Since then, scholars at UBC and other Canadian universities have pushed the limits of curriculum inquiry in ways that are unmatched in other countries. The Canadian Association for Curriculum Studies played a large role in this generative era of change: an era of ideas, innovation, and increased scholarship that formed a strong Canadian curriculum scholarship identity. With this symposium, the conference planning committee believes we are provoking a new era of curriculum theorizing. (Irwin, 2003, n. p.) Eight years ago, the University of British Columbia initiated the first Canadian Association for Curriculum Studies co-sponsored conference under the general theme of “Provoking Curriculum,” with the sub-theme of narrative experimentation. In turn, this conference was created to encourage creative presentations and conversations around interpretive and critical approaches to curriculum theorizing. The first conference celebrated the illustrious career of Dr. Ted Aoki, and the publication of his writings (see Aoki, 2003; Pinar and Irwin, 2005).[1] Since then, two other conference proceedings have taken place. In 2005, the University of Victoria hosted the second of such gatherings, which focused on “Trans/forming Narratives.” In 2007, the University of Calgary sponsored the third rendition of this conference in Banff where scholars, including myself, provoked our curricular narratives with themes of “Shifting Borders and Spaces.”
At the town hall meeting of this last gathering, I suggested that the University of Ottawa could be the next site for this biennial pro/vocation to take place. Nonetheless, as a newly appointed professor, I was unaware of the logistical implications associated with organizing a professional conference. Consequently, my dean thought I was crazy to take on such a daunting curricular task. In turn, she gently advised me to focus my scholarly efforts instead on publishing. Nonetheless, recognizing the overwhelming situation that I had unknowingly gotten myself into, she provided the conference committee with the organizational services of our amazing marketing team in kind. We are interested in narrative as a mode of inquiry, rather than simply as a form of data. When we narrate, we construct meaning by linking events in particular ways. There are always multiple stories to tell about events and thus multiple meanings to be made. Stories told can always be retold, changing the meanings we live by, and how we are in our worlds. We invite participants to make the familiar strange by reflecting on the narratives of their research, teaching, and everyday practices. Some provocative questions to ponder: What is it to think narratively about what is already there, what you are already doing in practice? How did you come to engage in the ways that you do? How did those practices come to have the form they have now? (Rasmussen, 2005, n. p.)
Our theme for the 2007 iteration of the Provoking Curriculum Conference is "Inquiry in the Age of Shifting Borders and Spaces." We invite you to be part of this conference, to inquire into, theorize, grapple with, re-conceptualize, and re-present various aspects of inquiry to consider how it might constitute "good" learning, evocative teaching, and critical exploration into cultural contexts. (Smits, 2007, n. p.)



Cette conférence fournit une occasion unique pour provoquer et complexifier nos conversations par rapport au curriculum, cœur organisationnel et intellectuel du contenu, du contexte, et du processus éducatif. (Ng-A-Fook, 2009a, 4)

In an effort to eliminate traveling to Ottawa twice within the same year, the conference was rescheduled to take place at the end of May 2009, rather than February as previously planned, to coincide with CSSE at Carleton University, which curriculum scholars were also attending. This was the first time that the Provoking Curriculum Studies Conference would take place outside the western territories of Canada. Furthermore, hosting the conference at our university provided a unique occasion to provoke a multilingual and multicultural rendition of this conference at an officially sanctioned bilingual university. Past conference organizers, like Hans Smits, expressed the difficulties he and others previously had in soliciting francophone participation. Although scholars from Quebec, New Brunswick, and Ontario did participate, francophone representation remained fairly limited. Nonetheless, as conference chair, my hope was that our gathering within this capital institution would afford international, immigrant, indigenous, English and French speaking curriculum scholars a common time and place to share our uncommon countenance of lived experiences both within and outside the field of Canadian curriculum studies.
In an effort to continue bridging such conversational sustenance, as curriculum scholars we then gathered over two beautiful spring days to provoke inter/disciplinary countenances of our respective regional distinctions within the Faculty of Education at the University of Ottawa. Through our historical and intellectual pro/vocations of a Canadian topos, we sought curricular ways to find an uncommon common place to begin the difficult work of reaching into and across our inter/disciplinary terroirs of difference (Chambers, 1999, 2008; Pinar 2008). In turn, many of us shared our experimentations with representing curriculum theorizing as an aesthetic form of writing, what Chambers (1999) and Pinar (2007) call the vertical and horizontal topographies of the particular places and regions we both live and work within. Here verticality is, Pinar (2007) explains, the historical and intellectual topography of a discipline. Whereas horizontality, he suggests, refers to analyses of present circumstances, both in terms of internal intellectual trends as well as the external social and political milieus influencing the field of curriculum studies. The 4th Biennial Provoking Curriculum Studies Conference encourages experimental presentations that enable understanding of uniquely Canadian curricular issues. As curriculum theorists committed to educating the public in this current era of social, technological, environmental and curricular globalization, how might we then locate such understanding within the field of Canadian Curriculum Studies? Focusing on the significance of curriculum history to understanding Canadian curriculum in the present and imagining curriculum in the future, our conference is An Uncommon Countenance: Provoking Historical, Present, and Future Perspectives within Canadian Curriculum Studies. (Ng-A-Fook, 2009b, 4)

Studying the verticality and horizontality of such inter/disciplinary topographies, as Pinar (2007) makes clear, affords us opportunities to understand a series of scholarly moves both outside and within what Chambers (1999, 2003) calls the topos of Canadian Curriculum Studies. Therefore at this conference gathering many of us asked ourselves how our understandings of such historical and intellectual topographies “are inscribed in our [curriculum] theorizing, as either presence or absence, whether we want them there or not” (Chambers, 1999, 148). Thus our challenge as curriculum theorists, Chambers (1999) reminds us, “will be to write a topography for curriculum theory, one that begins at home but journeys elsewhere” (148). Furthermore, while mapping out part of that topography for the first International Handbook of Curriculum Research, Chambers (2003) emphasized that indigenous education remains particularly contentious and underrepresented in (mainstream or contemporary) Canadian curriculum scholarship. As a first generation immigrant to Canada, with transnational dual citizenships, who in turn claims hybrid cultural identities, indigenous education was and remains both contentious and underrepresented within my educational experiences inside and outside the institutions of schooling.

As curriculum theorists then, how might we reread—both vertically and horizontally—the inter/disciplinary topographies within Canadian curriculum studies anew while remaining unfaithfully faithful to the concept of an old name like currere, in terms of its discursive genealogies? And, how might we frame our experimentations with curriculum theorizing as an aesthetic form of Denkbild, as currere, which in turn works to provoke an uncommon countenance within its recurring narrative movements? In response to such pro/vocations, let us turn our narrative heading toward a curriculum theorist’s vertical and horizontal migration within “An Uncommon Countenance: Provoking Historical, Present, and Future Perspectives within Canadian Curriculum Studies.”

At the Crossroads of currere in Recurring Movements

Thus, as Canadians, we may not recognize our own literature, land, and history, our uniqueness—our own curriculum and its theory—even when we are living in the midst of it. This invisibility is even more poignant, and dangerous, perhaps, in that it keeps us from seeing what is here as being of any value.
—Chambers (1999, 140)

currere in recurring movements?
—Aoki (2005, 457)

I am riding a colonial train, writing digitally on a laptop, and looking out the window from time to time at the Ontario countryside. The sun is slowly setting over the horizon. The conference is over. I make my way to join my family at our summer rural residence in Wasaga Beach. Now daydreaming within the rhythmic swaying of our cart, I gaze out at the reflective dreamscape of curriculum theorizing, pivoting within its theoretical anteroom, while trying to understand my associations with its inter/disciplinary structures. “The dreamer’s ‘landscape’ is often a mood,” Tuan (1993) tells us, “induced eerily by a particular feature (house, tree stump, dead bird) rather than by a topography” (10). And, “even when the dreamscape seems to have a distinctive topographic character,” Tuan suggests, “the dreamer lacks the ability mentally to remove the self” (10). In short, he concludes dream is immersion where “the dreamer is a captive of the milieu and time in which she finds herself” (10). Here is where currere affords us an opportunity to reflect recursively in the recurring movements of such captivating milieus and then graphically represent our immersions in their respective intellectual moods. During the summer of 2000, I returned to university to further my professional intellectual development as a high school educator. At that time, our union was challenging the Ontario government’s (Mike Harris) restructuring of curriculum policies (standardized outcomes and testing), amalgamation of school boards and educational administration, as well as increasing a high school teacher’s overall workload from six to seven periods of teaching. As a new teacher finishing up a long-term occasional contract, securing work for the following year did not look that fortuitous, nor did working within this bureaucratic and systemic reorganization of schooling. Consequently, I enrolled into the Master of Education program at York University.
The first time I wrote autobiographically for an academic setting, was on my way to Baton Rouge for an educational conference. The theme of the conference was called “In Praise of the Post-modern.” The conference celebrated Bill Doll’s 70th birthday as well as his post-modern contribution to the international field of curriculum studies.

In February of 2001, I flew from Toronto to New Orleans. Once there, I had a two-hour layover at the downtown bus station, before taking the next Greyhound for Baton Rouge. While waiting at this southern terminal, I experimented with the aesthetics of writing an educational autobiography for a course paper due the following week.

For the first time, I realized that writing one’s educational autobiography provided a place for encountering self and other. In turn, I was able to give some narrative organization for graphically representing the psychic dynamics of my educational experiences. Once these experiences were written down, I was able to reread them, and then analyze their educational significance. During the synthesis of such analysis, I worked in turn to re-enter the present and question how such past educational assumptions continued to oppress one’s self and others.

—Ng-A-Fook, (2001)
My free associative daydreaming jumps forward through psychic time to a small window in my study. I am there, looking out toward a garden, not yet planted, at the back of our house. At the edges of this dreamscape, I foresee our family awaiting Demeter’s seasonal announcement of a time for planting. The conductor’s voice then momentarily brings me back. “Would you like something to eat or drink?” she asks. After this brief exchange between self and other, I return to daydreaming on my educational experiences of the conference proceedings, and remain immersed within this captivating milieu of hindsight.

In October of 2008, I met Chloe Brushwood Rose for the first time at the Bergamo Conference on Curriculum Theory and Classroom Practice in Dayton, Ohio. Over dinner one night, we discussed the possibility of organizing a discussion panel entitled “New Questions in Curriculum Studies: Exploring Educational Experiences in Transnational Times” for the Provoking Curriculum Studies Conference. In turn, we organized two sessions with Roland Sintos Coloma, Ruben Gaztambide-Fernandez, Lisa Farley, and Sara Matthews to address this theme at the conference as relatively newly appointed professors. And, both Jennifer Gilbert and Awad Ibrahim were our generous discussants.

Yet, in order to pose “new” curricular questions, if there is such a thing, one must be aware of the historical topographies they emerge from (see Aoki, 2005; Chambers, 1994, 1999, 2003, 2006, 2008; Cole, 2006; Daignault, 1983, 1992; Dion & Dion, 2004; Donald, 2004; Gidney, 1999; Haig-Brown, 1988, 1995, 2001, 2008; Irwin, 2004, 2006; Jardine, 1992, 2000; Smits, 2008; Sumara & Davis, 1999; Sumara, Davis, & Laidlaw, 2001; Tomkins, 1981, 1986/2008 as examples). And through such study “we must be suspicious,” Derrida (1991/1992) reminds us, “of both repetitive memory and the completely other of the absolutely new; of both anamnestic capitalization and the amnesic exposure to what would be no longer identifiable at all” (19). Nonetheless, within the vertical and horizontal dynamics of this suspicious space is a psychic place where we can experience and share in each other’s intellectual otherness.

Here is also where our curriculum theorizing can simultaneously migrate both vertically and horizontally across international topographies of curriculum studies (see Apple, 1990; Doll, 1993, 2006, 2008; Egéa-Kuehne, 1995, 2001; Huebner, 1975/1999; Kliebard, 1970, 1977; Greene, 1971, 1977; Grumet, 1987, 1988; Miller, 2004; Munro, 1998; Pinar et al., 1995; and Pinar, 2004, 2006, 2007 as examples). Through such migrations a few months prior to the conference, I began studying the writings of Walter Benjamin and Siegfried Kracauer, two Jewish exiles with marginal associations to the Frankfurt School before, during, and after their violent encounters with the Nazi regime (Richter, 2007). At that time, I was seeking to understand how the aesthetic dynamics of their philosophical writings might help a next generation of curriculum theorists to provoke a paleonomic form of curriculum theorizing as Denkbild (Benjamin, 1978, 2002; Kracauer, 1969, 1995). Paleonomy, Derrida (1982) suggests, is “the maintenance of an old name”—like currere, for example—in order “to launch a new concept” (quoted by Richter, 2007, 1). Perhaps all serious engagement with “philosophical and aesthetic concepts and their political and historical traditions may require,” as Richter (2007) suggests, “a form of paleonomic work” (1). Nonetheless, before we take up the concept of Denkbild, let us migrate anew across the vertical and horizontal topographies of an old concept like currere.

We can trace currere’s vertical topography through one of its many historical genealogies within the field of curriculum studies, that is, toward its Latin infinitive form: to run the course. During the 1970s, Pinar and Grumet took up this old name and launched it as a new conceptual framework for curriculum studies (see Van Manen, 1978). They began to pose new questions of curriculum, of its discursive trends, and of its respective theorizing. Drawing on autobiography, phenomenology, psychoanalysis, and feminist studies, these two scholars sought to disrupt the epistemological narrative sirens of mainstream social science research (see Grumet, 1987; Pinar & Grumet, 1976; and Pinar et. al, 1995; and Pinar, 1975/2000). Here curriculum, at least then for Pinar (1975/2000, 2001) and now for me, is no longer understood educationally as a noun but instead reconceived as a verb, as currere. In 1975, Pinar edited and published a book called Curriculum Theorizing: The Reconceptualists. Pinar republished the book in 2000 and changed the title to Curriculum Studies: The Reconceptualization to highlight that although the authors found within this edited collection share a common theme of curriculum studies, their educational and political engagements differed. Nonetheless, two specific chapters within this collection of essays provided my initial conceptualizations for engaging an autobiographical methodology for studying and writing about educational experiences.

In "Search for a Method," Pinar provides the reader with a methodology for educational research that differentiates itself from the “positivistic, so-called empirical research methodologies,” that at the time he believed to occupy center stage within education (416). In this chapter he introduces us to the crossroads of currere, namely: 1) regression, 2) progression, 3) analysis, and 4) synthesis. Might we stress here that currere is a methodology, and not a method for writing linear narrative progressions from regression to synthesis (see Doll, 2006, 2008). Instead it is, as I will attempt to perform throughout this paper, a recursive assemblage of autobiographical snapshots, a complicated conversation always momentarily situated (Pinar, 2006), taking place within the temporal fluidity of third space (Wang, 2009), and sometimes offering their graphic materialization at the narrative crossroads of these four signpostings.

In "Analysis of Educational Experience," Pinar emphasizes the following recursive movements at the crossroads of currere:

First to render one’s own educational experience (these terms include what Dewey calls educative and miseducative experience) into words, using associative forms of minding. The second is to use one’s critical faculties to understand what principles and patterns have been operative in one’s educational life, hence achieving a more profound understanding of one’s educational experience, as well as illuminating parts of the inner world and deepening one’s self-understanding generally. The third task is to analyze others’ experience to reveal what I call basic educational structures or processes that cross biographical lines. (389)

Since writing this chapter, Pinar (2001, 2004) has refined his initial conceptual framework of currere. Later Pinar (2004) tells us, that his methodology “provides a strategy for students of curriculum to study relations between academic knowledge and life history in the interest of self-understanding and social reconstruction” (35). In turn, he asks us to consider the following types of questions during the free associative renderings of our narrative reconstructions:

What has been the nature of your educational experience? What areas of study have interested you, at what times in your life, and what psychological factors were operative that might account for that interest? What teachers influenced you, and which ones did not, and how do you account for the differential effects. What “place” in your psychic life does your academic career play? (1975/2000, 390-391)

I was first introduced to the field of curriculum studies and its respective historical discursive trends during a course entitled Introduction to Curriculum Studies. The course instructor just happened to be William Pinar who was a visiting professor that summer term at York University. My lived experiences within this course were indeed an intellectual turning point for me (Marshall, Sears, & Schubert, 2000). Bill introduced us for the first time to currere, as a legitimate form of educational research within the disciplinary structures of schooling. Today with these questions in mind, I stand at the historical edges of our field, pivoting within the recursive temporal movements of currere, scanning its horizons for regressive, progressive, analytical and synthetical signpostings. And at the edges of this temporal flow, I seek to understand how we might graphically represent these narrative signpostings as an aesthetic form of curriculum theorizing, as the materiality of writing, which in turn respond to such questions. Here I seek to understand the limitless possibilities of what Gilmore (1994, 2001) calls the technologies of autobiography.
Back at the narrative crossroads of currere, one can read its regressive signposting, as a direction to a side street or an alleyway where one can take autobiographical snapshots of free associations and read them against for example, the panoramic backdrop of an urban landscape. The narrative push for such free associative sightseeing is to try and walk within the random presence of the past, where the rendering of “a genuine photograph [of our memory] precludes the notion of completeness” (Kracauer, 1969, 49). And here camera-reality, Kracauer (1969) tells us, parallels the reality generated by free associations in terms of its structure and its general constitution. Like camera-reality, free association is partly patterned, partly amorphous—a consequence in both cases, because of “the half-cooked state of our everyday world” (Kracauer, 1969, 58). Throughout this paper, I incorporate such temporal free associations through textboxes and narrative snapshots generated with software like Comic Life, which in turn lead us to other narrative alleyways. Five years ago I was hired as a tenure track professor of curriculum theory within the Faculty of Education at the University of Ottawa. Prior to accepting my appointment, I went to study as an international student with William F. Pinar at Louisiana State University within its unique Curriculum Theory Project. Over the course of my studies I sought to understand, among other things, the aesthetic and political dynamics of curriculum theorizing with scholars like Petra Munro Hendry, Denise Egéa-Kuehne, Claudia Eppert, and William Doll Jr. Prior to the 1970s, "curriculum theory and theorizing," Macdonald (1971/2000) tells us, "may be characterized as being in a rather formative condition, for essentially there are no generally accepted clear-cut criteria to distinguish curriculum theory and theorizing from other forms of writing in education" (p.5). Therefore with these curriculum theorists I studied the historical and intellectual discursive distinctions of curriculum theorizing within the American South—no monolithic place to be sure. And, working alongside graduate students like Hongyu Wang, Brian Casemore, Rita Ugena Whitlock, Sarah Smitherman, Laura Jewett, and Sean Buckreis, I tried to situate and analyze my educational experiences of this southern place through the theoretical and aesthetic dynamics of currere.
As a curriculum theorist, and former science and history teacher, at Louisiana State University I studied the ways in which my teachings of colonialism’s cultural, historical, and national narratives suppressed and continue to silence the stories of the colonized. In turn, my doctoral research sought to share the life narratives of the Houma elders in order to illustrate their lived experiences inside and outside the colonizers’ institutional systems. The Louisiana State apparatus historically dictated educational exclusion through its infamous policies of racial segregation. Consequently, Houma elders were often excluded from Louisiana’s publicly funded institutions. Although public institutions of schooling house an ensemble of knowledges and practices that reproduce and inscribe colonialism’s culture, they also provide spaces to teach alter/native historical narratives, where we might learn about the different indigenous nations who continue to challenge the colonization of their traditional lands. The potential social significance for revisiting indigenous histories via life narrative research is that it becomes a way for transforming both the content and the purpose of history. (Ng-A-Fook, 2005, 2007) At the turn of the 20th century, I began my academic career as a graduate student and burgeoning curriculum theorist at York University. In my thesis, I utilized currere as a strategy for bridging an inter/disciplinary and complicated conversation between women and gender, postcolonial, indigenous, and curriculum studies (Ng-A-Fook, 2001). In turn, working with Celia Haig-Brown, I studied Pinar’s (1975/2000) autobiographical, Smith’s (1999) decolonizing, and Bishop’s (1996) participatory research methodologies to critically question the half-cooked state in which my educational experiences as an immigrant child took place inside and outside of what Althusser (1971/2001) calls the ideological State apparatus of Canadian schooling. Such institutional socialization worked in part to shape my historical and racialized ignorance of, and toward, the socioculturally diverse indigenous nations living here on these territories since time immemorial. Our autobiographical snapshots of such regressive free associations can be “virtually endless, issuing from a dark which is increasingly receding and extending into an open-ended future” (Kracauer, 1969, 45). Yet how might we socially reconstruct such regressive narrative recessions toward the future?

If we return to the crossroads of currere, where time hovers within what Wang (2009) calls the narrative chronotopes of third space, we may pivot toward a progressive signposting. From there, is a narrative cobbled road leading through an archway, infinitely beyond the horizon of our psychic abode, beyond historic time itself. Nonetheless, while pivoting at this signposting, one can look through its archway, capturing narrative snapshots of the future, always fleeting, but nonetheless taking place within the present.

Back at the centre of the crossroads of currere, there is also an analytical signposting that leads to an art gallery, where its daguerreotypic exhibit narrates the autobiographical past and future together expressing themselves in the present. Within the inter/disciplinary contexts of currere, a daguerreotypic exhibit is where each autobiographical snapshot has multiple analytical possibilities, and where a curriculum theorist’s discursive assembling of each frame of reference—whether within Marxist, autobiographical, indigenous, postcolonial, and/or queer studies—works in turn to depict a faithfulness authenticated only by the presence of the narrative representation itself (Kracauer, 1969).

The synthetical is another signposting, leading to a coffee shop, an organic bakery, a local market, or totem pole just down the street from the crossroads of currere “where ghostly signals flash from the traffic and inconceivable connections between events are the order of the day” (Benjamin, 1978, 183). Here is where a curriculum scholar frames past, present, and future narrative snapshots, where images of their limitations and possibilities flash, as we re-enter the present moment hopefully with a sense of greater self-knowledge in inconceivable ways.

Yet this synthetical framing, as Kracauer (1969) makes clear, “marks a provisional limit; its content points beyond that frame, referring to a multitude of real-life phenomena which cannot possibly be encompassed in their entirety” (59). Much like Wang’s (2009) recent theorization of chronotopes, at the crossroads of currere, the narrative directions of these signpostings “are infinitely multiple” and “the plurality of time/space” is always present (2). Furthermore our autobiographical interactions with “external time, internal time, and pedagogical time” at these crossroads sets into motion what Wang (2009) calls “a dynamic of freeing the present from its unquestioned assumptions and unaware stuck points in the past and of destabilizing the future beyond” a fixed narration toward a final destination (3). Just at this moment of daydreaming about the dreamscape of curriculum theorizing, the train conductor announces our impending arrival at Union Station.

Picture 1 Shortly after arriving, I make my way to the downtown bus terminal just off Bay Street to catch the next Greyhound to Barrie. There, Laurie Anne and our two boys patiently await for us all to then return to Wasaga Beach. We will spend the better part of the next two weeks planting rows of peas, carrots, beets, onions, potatoes, corn, tomatoes, and cabbage with their Baba in the garden. In the afternoons during their naptime, I will return to the anteroom of curriculum theorizing about such lived experiences. But for now, let us walk away from this dreamscape of currere toward representing its respective narratives as an aesthetic form of Denkbild.

Curriculum Theorizing as a Digital Form of Denkbild

Denkbilder are neither programmatic treatises nor objective manifestations of a historical spirit, neither fanciful fictions nor mere reflections of reality. Rather, the philosophical miniatures of the Denkbild can be understood as conceptual engagements with the aesthetic and as aesthetic engagements with the conceptual, hovering between philosophical critique and aesthetic production.
—Richter (2007, 2)

On an early Sunday morning, just months before the conference is to take place, I make my way down to the Byward Market with our two sons. I was hoping to take snapshots of our capital landscape and potentially find a cover image that would in turn narrate our conference theme. I must have walked pass that totem pole on York Street a hundred times—never once noticing its exiled presence in front of the Ottawa School of Art. Nonetheless, on this day, I take a snapshot of totem pole and its uncommon countenance reaching up toward the sky. My hope is that in some way its “captured” digital image will encourage our future conceptual experimentations and engagements with the conference theme as an aesthetic form of narrative production. Later that afternoon, while my two sons were taking a nap, I utilize Comic Life to create a digital narrative of our conference cover story. Prior to assembling this narrative montage, I utilized the Google search engine to find digital images and documents related to past Provoking Curriculum Studies Conferences. I then took screen captures of these digital images and imported them into Comic Life. In turn, these digital narrative montages provided a vertical and horizontal frame of reference around the totem pole at the centre of the crossroads of this cover story. Here is also an example how we might experiment with digital images as a form of Denkbild to provoke representations of the narrative verticality of Canadian curriculum studies. Picture 2
Picture 3 Let us now briefly turn to the scholars directly and/or marginally associated with the Frankfurt School, like Benjamin and Siegfried, who experimented with Denkbild as “a poetic form of condensed, epigrammatic writing in textual snapshots” (Richter, 2007, 2). Their philosophical meditations fastened themselves upon seemingly peripheral detail, on marginal topics like a sock in a drawer, a one-way street, an angel of history, an arcade, displacement, exile, extraterritoriality, and homelessness for example, usually without a developed plot or a prescribed narrative agenda, yet charged with theoretical insight (Richter, 2007).

Benjamin described his friend Kracauer as “a relentless outsider” and “a marginal yet revolutionary ragpicker of history” (quoted by Richter, 2007, 116). Here today, might we also envision ourselves as curriculum theorists, standing at the crossroads of currere, ragpicking between daybreak and sundown, rereading the multiple literacies of an urban landscape, translating its historical narrative scraps, and tossing them, while grumbling and growling, into our theoretical carts (Benjamin, 1999).

Yet not without letting one or another of those faded cotton remnants of colonialism’s culture, float derisively away, down the tributaries of its rivers. Therefore as a ragpicker migrating across the shorelines of this capital, how might we pick up its transnational narratives, retrieve them from the ditches and alleyways, and reread the topographic landscape of an uncommon common countenance we call Canadian Curriculum Studies? Might we also narrate the marginal countenances of curriculum theory, its terroirs, and provoke their absent presence, like a sock in the drawer of an uncommon history, making its common presence disappear, even as its ceaselessly demands to be unveiled. In response to these curricular questions, let us move this narrative setting to the southwest corner of the Byward Market. And, walk over toward its historical flowers, like the tulips shivering in front of our parliament, and take a snapshot of a red cedar totem pole, standing at its edges, representing indigenous exile within the violent turbulence of past, present, and future colonial times. Where… we might ask anew questions in transnational times.

That afternoon, once I created these screen capture montages, I then played with the various representational themes in Comic Life, such as Marvel, to reframe the aesthetical representations of the historical digital images generated by Google’s re-search engine. However, I had difficulty tracing the various digital topographies of The Totem Pole of Canada, its uncommon narrative countenances. So on sunny afternoons, I left the confines of my office, walked downtown to sit on a bench in the Byward Market, and listen to a raven’s stories of experiencing colonial immigration and exile.

Sock in a Drawer

The first cabinet that would yield whenever I wanted was the wardrobe. I had only to pull on the knob, and the door would click open and spring toward me. Among the nightshirts, aprons, and undershirts which were kept there in the back was the thing that turned the wardrobe into an adventure for me. I had to clear a way for myself to its farthest corner. There I would come upon my socks, which lay piled in traditional fashion—that is to say, rolled up and turned inside out. Every pair had the appearance of a little pocket. For me, nothing surpassed the pleasure of thrusting my hand as deeply as possible into its interior. I did not do this for the sake of the pocket’s warmth. It was “the little present” rolled up inside that I always held in my hand and that drew me into the depths. When I had closed my fist around it and, so far as I was able, made certain that I possessed the stretchable woolen mass, there began the second phase of the game, which brought with it the unveiling. For now I proceeded to unwrap “the present,” to tease it out of its woolen pocket. I drew it ever nearer to me, until something rather disconcerting would happen: I had brought out “the present,” but “the pocket” in which it had lain was no longer there. I could not repeat the experiment on this phenomenon often enough. It taught me that form and content, veil and what is veiled, are the same. It led me to draw truth from works of literature as warily as the child’s hand retrieved the sock from “the pocket”
—Benjamin (quoted by Richter, 2007, 10)

Picture 4 Its regressive narrative leads us simultaneously across the vertical and horizontal topographies of our country to The Gitanmaax School of Northwest Coast Indian Art in Hazelton, British Columbia. In 1991, the Ottawa School of Art commissioned this community’s spiritual guidance for carving the aesthetical expressions that now make up this Totem Pole of Canada. The raven and its trickster stories then accompanied this red cedar, as it migrated across our transnational highway toward this capital landscape. Upon their exiled arrival, and for the right sum, various cultural groups could have their national symbols of origin tattooed across its wooden body. In turn, the aesthetic expressions on this pole, their carved narrations, took two years to write. Once finished, Stone (1993) suggests, it became a totem of modern totems representing those that now legitimately and illegitimately inhabit this land.
This Totem Pole of Canada was then raised in front of the school as an aesthetic expression, hauled up by modernism and its technology, its wooden narratives bolted to a steel spine, sunken deep into a concrete pad between the sidewalk and street (Stone, 1993). Here is where our raven, a scavenger of narratives, now rests with an uncommon countenance above its shoulders, trading trickster stories of iron/y with the Hudson Bay Company just across the street, greeting tourists taking snapshots of it sitting within the receding shadows of global empires. Tricking them, telling them that this totem pole is, and is not, a totem pole. Picture 5

From an alleyway behind the back of the totem pole, I take snapshots of progressive curricular signs. Like the future, its back is open, where one can see its steel spine. “This is,” Stone (1993) tells us, “because it was made to go against a wall in front of the school, a spot chosen after the organizers looked at a chart of gas lines and underground wires and so on” (B6). The pole then had to be moved out to where you could now see its exposed innards (Stone, 1993). Now freestanding in exile at the crossroads of this market place, it symbolizes a narrative of cultures—indigenous, Greek, German, Dutch, Lebanese, Turkish, etc.—bolted together by a Canadian story not yet finished.

Picture 6 In turn, this Totem Pole of Canada records what Richter (2007) “calls an historical moment at the same time that it interrupts” colonial history, “perpetuating the very thinkability” of such history, “even as it breaks with the logic” of its historic unfolding (107). While this former Red Cedar has found an urban home, and its current totemic form, its lived curriculum for me represents multiple narrative displacements—where, its historical exile is “captured” as digital image on the cover of the program. In turn, this image tells us of its own departure from history by capturing time most fully by removing itself from the materiality of historic time itself (Richter, 2007). The way in which, for instance, its comic narrative representation on the cover memorializes it, by removing it outside the temporal flow of historic time within the landscape of an urban abode. Standing at the edges of this theoretical alleyway, pivoting within its space and time, I wonder how we might frame our experimentations with curriculum theorizing, as currere, as an aesthetic form of Denkbild, that works in turn to uncover an uncommon countenance bolted together in recurring movements of Canadian Curriculum Studies, always unfinished, where its future narratives are still yet to come.

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[1] While pursuing a doctoral degree as a Canadian international student within the Curriculum Theory Project at Louisiana State University, William Pinar and Rita Irwin invited me to copy-edit Aoki’s collection of essays.