Current debates over the nature of science in the school curriculum have centered on where the boundary between “traditional” science and other forms of knowledge should be drawn. What has been missing from these discussions, however, is a careful examination of how what lies within the boundary of “traditional” school science itself has been determined. Given the diversity of scientific practices and the inherent limitations of space in the curriculum, the portrayal of traditional science (its epistemology in particular) should be understood to be only a selective representation of the real-world practices of science. Such representations are inevitably shaped by not just what scientists do, but also by the social and political context in which they are developed. Taking a historical perspective, the curricular ideas of John Dewey and Joseph Schwab are used to illustrate the subtle ways in which epistemological portrayals have been influenced by this sociohistorical context and the consequences those portrayals have had with respect to the public's relationship with institutional science in the United States at two key points during the twentieth century. © 2002 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Sci Ed87:64–79, 2003; Published online in Wiley InterScience ( DOI 10.1002/sce.1055