Canonical knowledge and common culture: in search of curricular justice

Terry Wrigley


This paper engages with a growing discussion about social justice as applied to school curricula. It examines claims made both for canonical knowledge from established academic disciplines and for the everyday experience and knowledge of working-class or poor communities. The emphasis is on economic divisions, but the principles apply more broadly including race and gender.
The influence of neoliberal and neoconservative ideologies is demonstrated through a brief history of curriculum models in the English context, to illustrate the different forms an unjust curriculum can take. This is followed by a critique of the Social Realist response, which sidelines vernacular knowledge. A particular focus of this critique is to dismantle the suggestion that non-canonical or 'standpoint' knowledge necessarily leads to relativism.
The vital contribution of vernacular perspectives in extending and transforming academic disciplines is summarised, before showing how this was exercised in the school curriculum, particular in the subject English in the progressive period from roughly 1965 to 1985. A particular interest developed in the everyday knowledge and experiences of working-class communities. The paper ends by outlining some practices and principles which connect canonical knowledge and learners' lifeworld experience to generate socially powerful knowledge.

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