James Macdonald Essay

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James Macdonald was a curriculum theorist who helped to shape the reconceptualist movement of curriculum studies throughout his work in the 1960s and 1970s. For Macdonald, curriculum was like a microcosm of life itself and posed similar social, moral, and spiritual challenges. He believed curriculum theorizing was a creative act stemming from the critical question, “How shall we live together?”

Macdonald spoke out against the discipline-based curriculum work of the 1960s that identified phenomena and people as objects within categories within systems and argued instead for an aesthetic rationality where curriculum workers addressed issues at an intuitive level and allowed individuals to transcend existing systems and categories. Macdonald further argued that curriculum workers needed to move beyond the discipline-based structure of their work in order to create a more person-oriented curriculum that could respond to issues of social injustice.

In 1971, Macdonald mapped out a curriculum theory in which he identified three categories of theorists: one category in which theorists used theory as a guide for curriculum development and research as a tool for evaluating curriculum; a second in which theorists used scientific theory to identify and define variables within curriculum development; and a third category in which theorists used theory to think more creatively about curriculum. He associated himself with the third group.

Macdonald’s challenges to current practices in curriculum work of the 1960s and early 1970s helped to usher in the new movement of curriculum studies where scholars would look at work in schools through phenomenological, autobiographic, and theological lenses.


  1. Macdonald, B. J. (Ed.). (1995). Theory as a prayerful act: The collected essays of James B. Macdonald. New York: Peter Lang.
  2. Pinar, W. F., Reynolds, W. M., Slattery, P., & Taubman, P. M. (1995). Understanding curriculum: An introduction to the study of historical and contemporary discourses. New York: Peter Lang.

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