My first comment is that Joe seems to be an even bigger advocate of these arguments than the author herself. I will try to avoid an analogy with Michael Gove, the English Education Minister, though he has previously singled out Joe as a teacher blogger he particularly admires – does this mean he gets many bits of his knowledge about education from 2nd hand sources? Wouldn’t be surprising.
The myth I am most interested in is the one about the teaching of knowledge being like indoctrination. Daisy hasn’t yet blogged about this, the last chapter in her book. Joe does however quote from the book (in italics below) and shares his thoughts as follows:
” ‘It’s sometimes said that those who want to teach knowledge want to take us back to the 19th century. In fact the reverse is true. It’s those who don’t want to teach knowledge who want to take us back to the 19th century. For when we consider the 19th century, we see that for many of the elites at the time were extremely reluctant to teach knowledge to the masses, on the grounds that it would make them ‘refractory and seditious’ … The author is uncompromising in confronting the predictable challenges to this argument. But how do we decide what knowledge to teach? Why do pupils need it anyway? Who is to say which knowledge to teach? How do we ensure it’s not biased or unrepresentative? How do we decide which disciplines and which concepts pupils should learn? What about the concerns over facts that are inappropriate or irrelevant? These concerns are comprehensively rebutted in the final chapter, thoroughly debunking the notion that knowledge indoctrinates rather than liberates: ‘If we fail to teach knowledge, pupils fail to learn. Unless we place the powerful and liberating force of knowledge at the heart of our education system, our education system will continue to fail our pupils and to deepen inequality’.”
Of course this relies on two arguments. One, that the conservative views of ‘many of’ the 19th century elites were based on secure knowledge – to my mind they sound like the same views expressed by the Catholic Church in the response to Martin Luther and the Reformation three centuries before – things had clearly moved on by then, to the extent that Darwin’s radical theory of evolution could be openly debated in the second half of the 19th Century (though it’s still not accepted in many parts of the world!).
The second argument is that all knowledge is liberating. This clearly depends on the intentions behind its provision. If this is a cultural re-engineering programme, as has happened and still happens in many political regimes whether right- or left-wing e.g. North Korea (see this post which refers to their educational approach towards the bottom), then clearly it is not intended to be liberating as many of us might understand it.
As a knowledge broker I have tried to identify for myself the currency of what I do – I freely admit this is not based on huge amounts of research evidence, though there is an increasing theoretical base behind knowledge brokering and allied types of activity connecting research with policy and practice. My personal conclusion is that knowledge centres around key facts that are agreed to be such – so there is a prioritising exercise that goes on which has to involve consensus. This is why Ministers and their civil servants are supposed to genuinely consult on changes to the National Curriculum.
I do like the Hirsch analogy, that both Daisy and Joe use, of knowledge and skills in the curriculum being like scrambled eggs.
However I think it can be developed a little.
The expression ‘the curate’s egg’ is based on a late 19th century Punch cartoon. It describes something, like an unappetising boiled egg, that is partly good but mainly bad, done in a way so as not to offend the perpetrator. Both sides of the knowledge versus skills curriculum debate might well use it to describe an antagonist’s position.
But does it really matter which part an educated person comes from?
I asked my 12-year-old daughter this morning what she thought of the knowledge versus skills dichotomy. She was unequivocal that there was no point in knowing a lot of stuff without being able to apply it – as she put it, “it won’t get you through your university entrance interview”.
I do hope she’s right!