Feminism is a concept and a practice. As a concept feminism is polysemic, semantically contested, networked, interactive, powerful and dynamic. An important binary that has had real effects in the space of learning – the area of life that is fully focused on learning – is the male/female binary, an oppositional coupling of two words, and this implies a relationship between these two descriptive terms, both of which can be problematised. In addition, the strength, type and probative force of this relationship is central to its meaning. Although women have been actively involved throughout the centuries in making societies, they have been marginalised when it comes to the production of knowledge about societies and social activities. This has implications for how epistemic differences are constructed to conceptualise masculinity and femininity, how these key categories function to define the nature of people (women, men and intersex persons), and how they work to attach different valuations to women’s, intersex persons’ and men’s dispositions and capacities.
Any claim to knowledge made by us or anyone else is framed or enframed; and consequently there is a need to articulate and give expression to this enframing as it relates to ontological, epistemological and methodological concerns, and thus it comprises ineluctably a reasoned argument to support it. This requires a theory of mind and therefore a theory of the relationship between mind or minds and the world. In addition, concepts, such as feminism, can be polysemic and used in a number of different ways and are enframed in a form of life, where this is understood discursively, materially, socially, politically or epistemically. Our framework is a form of dispositional realism. All this and more needs to be established before the central argument of the book we have just published (Women Curriculum Theorists: Power, Knowledge and Subjectivity [Leaton Gray & Scott, 2023]) can be attended to.
In this book we discuss women’s involvement in curriculum theory, knowledge development and learning, and what form these might take. Our focus in this history of ideas is on concepts and conceptual development. We address in each chapter a concept or an historical praxis (event or episodic series of events) and we do this by exploring a part or aspect of the work of an important woman theorist with a record of feminist commitments. These are not summaries of their work as a whole. They are philosophical discussions of some key concepts and praxes within the overarching concept and practice of learning that these women have contributed to in their writings and in their lives. This means that our feminist concept-framings and praxes, which we can loosely associate with the work of Maxine Greene (imagination), Susan Haack (justification), Nel Noddings (care), Julia Kristeva (edusemiotics), Jane Roland Martin (curriculum), Dorothea Beale (girls’ education), Susan Isaacs (play), Maria Montessori (autonomy), Mary Warnock (inclusion), Marie Battiste (indigeneity), Martha Nussbaum (social justice) and Lucy Diggs Slowe (Black women’s higher education), are not biographies or even intellectual biographies of these theorists. And, in addition, we are only interested in an idea or a set of ideas or a practical application of an idea (inclusion in the case of Mary Warnock, for example) in each of these cases.
‘Indeed, the writing of any history of education requires us to embrace women’s constant involvement with and within it.’
Debates surrounding the curriculum are central to processes of modern schooling and related policy formations, which makes this an important area of enquiry. Yet all too often, the field of curriculum theory has been dominated by male voices. There doesn’t seem to be a convincing reason for this dominance other than intellectual habit and convention, especially considering the obvious range and depth of women’s wider contributions to the field. Indeed, the writing of any history of education requires us to embrace women’s constant involvement with and within it: from the earliest days of religious communities providing education to girls, from the development of their early literacy to what we might see as higher education today, and women as mothers seeking the best education for the children and young people in their care, through to eighteenth- and nineteenth-century initiatives that sought to create similar educational opportunities for both boys and girls, and more recently, contributions to the global development of social justice. This includes the de-gendering of education that is proving so important for accommodating intersectional identities in the modern age. To deny women curriculum theorists their place in history is to silence the voices of half the population of the world.
We also discuss in the book possible forms of women’s counteractivities to the different types of patriarchy that exist, such as absenting thoughts and ideas, reframing categories, counter-conducting, emancipating, immanent critiquing, decolonising knowledge, reading the world as a feminist text, praxis(ing), trans-framing, reflecting and textualising. The central issue that we examine in the book is the relationships between feminism, in its many shapes and guises, and the concepts and practices of learning and curriculum. This is a more complicated set of issues than is generally acknowledged, and we do not come to any definitive and binding conclusions, as an empiricist or positivist is inclined to do. What we do, however, is open up and illuminate the possible meanings that inhere in the three concepts and the relations between them.
Leaton Gray, S., & Scott, D. (2023). Women curriculum theorists: Power, knowledge and subjectivity. Routledge.