Defining Curriculum: Perspectives and Imperatives

The article, “Perspectives and Imperatives on Defining Curriculum” by John P. Portelli provides a detailed explanation of different definitions of curriculum, why it matters, and how some definitions are misleading. The author has researched how different philosophers and theorists view and define curriculum, terming some definitions as problematic and mythical. The writer argues that the definition of curriculum in education cannot be captured in a single definition, since it involves a lot of elements and it is in itself complex. Many philosophers and theorists have over the years challenged the traditional definition that was in use since the 1930s. Although there has been a disagreement between theories and philosophies on how the curriculum should be defined, it is evident that the complexity of the word brings about the disagreements and the weight it carries in the education system.

This article aims at answering different questions on curriculum definition, by looking at how the term has been defined over the years, the usefulness of the definitions, and whether the definitions are needed. There are many uses and definitive natures of the word, hence the need to differentiate the difference in their uses (Portelli, 1987). Curriculum can be used as a referent, or as a system of a school and can also be used as a field of study title. The author gives different reasons on why the term should be defined, and the need to understand why definitions are offered of different words and concepts.

Another reason why the term should be clarified is the need to differentiate curriculum from instructions, and how it relates with objectives, plans, and methods used in certain schooling programs. By clarifying this then it is easier to understand whether the curriculum notion is important to schooling and whether teaching would make sense without a curriculum belief. Most theorists argue that it is essential to have a universal definition of curriculum, without which communication will be hampered. Just as curriculum lacks one particular definition education also lacks a universal definition and each person tends to use one definition, they deem appropriate. The author offers different ways in which curriculum can be defined. One of the ways is seeing curriculum as a concept which was the traditional definition (Portelli, 1987). This form argues that curriculum is whatever the student is supposed to be taught.

Another way curriculum is defined is in terms of experience, which incorporates a student’s experience from school to life experience in general. This definition came up due to the narrowness of the traditional definition and it is the most used definition. Finally, the curriculum has been defined as a plan, which has been in use for a long now, later James Macdonald proposed another definition of the word, as “those planning endeavors which take place prior to instruction” (Portelli, 1987). Although the definition has been popular over the years, the author argues that Macdonald’s definition is not satisfying since it fails to reason for “instinctive and intentions” arising in class.

The article has clearly stated that the word curriculum lacks a good definition and the available definitions become so conflicting hence the lack of an understandable definition. The author has researched well on the topic and has put a compilation of some definitions that might be termed as better than the rest. The argument on whether the term should be defined is conflicting, but I believe that there should be a universal definition for the word to settle all the conflict between different philosophers and theorists.

The conflict between theorists and philosophers is brought about by the complexity of the term and the weight the term carries in the education sector. The article gives a good argument on why it is important to stop giving further definitions and instead create better definitions from the existing ones. Curriculum has been defined as a concept, as an experience, and as a plan, if all these are put together to come up with a single definition, then there could be a single definition that clearly explains what a curriculum is.


Portelli, J. P. (1987). Perspectives and imperatives on defining curriculum. Journal of curriculum supervision, 2(4), 354–367.

Video Voice-over

Cite this paper

Select style


ChalkyPapers. (2023, August 29). Defining Curriculum: Perspectives and Imperatives. Retrieved from


ChalkyPapers. (2023, August 29). Defining Curriculum: Perspectives and Imperatives.

Work Cited

"Defining Curriculum: Perspectives and Imperatives." ChalkyPapers, 29 Aug. 2023,


ChalkyPapers. (2023) 'Defining Curriculum: Perspectives and Imperatives'. 29 August.


ChalkyPapers. 2023. "Defining Curriculum: Perspectives and Imperatives." August 29, 2023.

1. ChalkyPapers. "Defining Curriculum: Perspectives and Imperatives." August 29, 2023.


ChalkyPapers. "Defining Curriculum: Perspectives and Imperatives." August 29, 2023.