The danger of ‘core knowledge.’ Have teachers lost the ability to be ‘curriculum makers?’


Have you noticed that some teachers are becoming unable to think for themselves?  It’s a trend in the Twitterverse and blogs and CPD events and staffrooms.  You know the call: ‘But the new National Curriculum / GCSE specification doesn’t mention climate change, so how can we teach it?’  The trouble is, as I see it, that teachers have become used to the spoon feeding provided by the National Curriculum and publishing companies.  If we aren’t told to teach it, then we can’t teach it.  We comply, understandably, to meet the current trends in what we should be teaching.

In addition, there’s a real danger that the curriculum in schools will become fossilised if we, as a profession, don’t think outside of the documents and texts produced.  This isn’t an attack on knowledge.  Knowledge should underpin teaching and learning.  I’m also not anti publishers, I write resources and textbooks so that would be mental.  The problem is that I wonder if teachers are too worried about moaning about the system rather than focusing on what they should be teaching.  Some have argued with me that teachers should be concerned with pedagogy and not what should be taught.  That’s simply bonkers.  At least at Secondary level, why shouldn’t experts in their subject not be involved in shaping what is taught?

Here’s an example from the geography curriculum, prompted by some tweets from a PTI event at the weekend. 

In terms of economic development, the BRIC countries (Brazil, India, Russia and China) are emerging economies and it’s great to see them in the latest National Curriculum documents.  The problem is, what about the MINT countries? Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey have been identified as the next emerging economies.  Look at the following graphic (taken from here).

GDP in 2012 and 2050

This would be great to kick off a geography lesson.  I wonder how many geography teachers consider where the term BRIC came from?  Both BRIC and MINT were acronyms coined by the economist Jim O’Neill.   If geography is a dynamic subject, then shouldn’t we be looking at predictions, their reliability and possible impacts?  I fear that the next range of books and examinations will limit teachers to considering what they are told to look at, rather than considering the latest developments in the subject.

Perhaps this is limited to geography?  Personally, I don’t think so.  I studied History to A’Level and have a very keen interest in it now.  Recently, I was interested to discover that there was controversy around the Battle of Hastings linked to its location.  New interpretations of history are unearthed often and I image that many other subjects are just as dynamic.  I accept that the same may not be said for all subjects.

My point?  I think that teachers should be making decisions on what should be taught as well as how.  They are equally important elements.  A worthwhile curriculum should also be contextualised to the local area. The purpose of education?  I can’t answer that to be honest, but a huge chunk of it is teaching how young people can continue to learn beyond the classroom.  Whatever happens in the future, I wonder how much of the knowledge gained in schools will be vital to the future?  I’m learning all of the time.  When I don’t know something, I look it up or just get on and figure it out.  This could be through reading, watching YouTube tutorials (great for learning how to grapple with Excel), talking to people and so on….  My main problem is that I’m not that confident with those that are deciding upon what knowledge is required.  It’s just their opinion.

The term ‘curriculum maker’ is used by the Geographical Association and I would urge teachers to decide on the knowledge taught as well as the manner in which it is taught.  Of course, this doesn’t involve setting up young people for failure by not covering what will be examined.  Simply considering the opportunity to explore other contexts and ideas.

Maybe this is way wide of the mark, or perhaps it’s preaching to the converted.  Either way, if teachers are spoon fed what to teach is it any wonder that young people are spoon fed to pass examinations?

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