Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Document Type



This dissertation reconceives curriculum through an historical approach that employs Ludwig Wittgenstein’s later philosophy. Curriculum is more than the knowledge taught in school. Curriculum, as I a theorist conceives it, is concerned with the broader intellectual and ideological ways a society thinks about education. Hence, the current school curriculum’s focus on specific learning outcomes offers a limited view of the knowledge fashioned by a society, thereby offering an intellectual and social history that is highly selective. Wittgenstein’s concept of “language-games” offers curricularists a way to re-include some of these stories. The concept of curriculum emerges at the end of the Renaissance from Peter Ramus’s refinement of the art of dialectic into a pedagogical method of logic. The modern curriculum field arose at the end of the nineteenth century as educators sought to further refine the remnants of scholasticism’s pedagogical practices by employing “social efficiency” and scientific management to more effectively organize American education. Social efficiency and scientific management became the underlying premises of Ralph Tyler’s (1949) rationalization of the school curriculum. During the nineteen seventies, curriculum theorists began disrupting Tyler’s rational foundations by reconceptualizing curriculum using philosophies and theories developed outside of education to alter the language used to describe education. I use Wittgenstein’s later philosophy to further disrupt the school curriculum’s rational underpinnings. Wittgenstein maintains that knowing does not require some internal or external authority, thereby rejecting the empirical and logical foundations of knowledge that underlie Western education. Using a Wittgenstein approach suggests that education is an indirect activity of teaching students the use of words. Wittgenstein suggests that educating students indirectly more closely resemble the kinds of playful activities in which children engage in their ordinary lives. He suggests that learning is a synoptic presentation that connects concepts that emerge from our everyday use of language in new and interesting ways. By asking students to see the resemblances among concepts synoptically, rather than logically, education cannot be reduced to the acquisition of a set of facts, ordered in a sequence of steps. As such, a Wittgensteinian approach reconceives curriculum as an act of language-play.



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Committee Chair

William E. Doll



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Education Commons