Critical theory is an always-evolving school of thought concerned with critiquing and transforming society. Critical theory refers to the theories developed by the Frankfurt School and other recent social scientists and feminist theorists whose theories aim to explain and transform social circumstances that enslave human beings. Critical theory has been the main source of analysis in the field of curriculum studies, particularly critical curriculum theory.

Critical theory has particularly influenced the work of critical curriculum theorists focused on curriculum for social reconstruction. It is important to note that, however, the critical tradition in curriculum studies in the U.S. can also be traced back to the work of Dewey, Counts, Rugg, Macdonald, Huebner, and Greene. The integration of critical theory into this critical tradition contributes to the formation of critical curriculum studies, which is well represented in the scholarship of Michael W. Apple, one of the world’s foremost educational and curriculum theorists. Apple’s emphasis on critical examination of the social realities on the one hand and search for possibilities to empower people and transform society on the other hand points to crucial tasks of critical educational and curriculum studies. Possibilities about using the process of schooling for social reconstruction and designing curriculum for a new cultural order depend on how thoroughly the current problems of social realities can be uncovered. The ideas of ideology, hegemony, official knowledge, power, deskilling, reskilling, and work intensification will be introduced to help readers understand how critical curriculum studies use these notions to examine key critical theory themes such as the politics of domination, legitimation, oppression, and exploitation embedded in school curriculum.

Recent development of critical theories has presented various directions for critical curriculum scholarship. The discussion of critical theory within curriculum studies is a way to revive the tradition of loosely termed critical curriculum studies (Sadovnik 1991) while simultaneously providing a contextual framework to build a rich conceptual foundation for engaging in a disciplined critical curriculum analysis. As new forms of critical theory have been and will be developed, critical curriculum studies continue to be enriched by this school of thought. The task of critical curriculum theory must be to open up more spaces for collective work for both critical analysis and social transformation.