Reforming the Curriculum (part 2)

The previous post (below) addressed ‘powerful knowledge’, equated with ‘knowledge of the powerful’, ( a ruling class, or Elite depending on how you want to characterise things). This knowledge, it was argued, appears ‘fixed,’ intrinsically superior, but is also essential in ensuring ‘legitimacy’. In other words its intrinsic qualities are used to justify a wider social function – that of control and subordination. This was contrasted with ‘critical knowledge’, or what 19th century radicals termed ’really useful knowledge’ – alternative views of how society works. This represents a different form of powerful knowledge, being potentially empowering.

The post also referred to the ‘everyday’ knowledge that students draw from the communities in which they live, but which is ignored if not openly despised in many academic institutions, because it’s seen as intrinsically inferior. Progressive educators have encouraged their students to bring this into the classroom. However, it would still necessary to link this to some form of alternative curriculum and for teachers to continue to be curriculum specialists as well as motivators and coaches.

In this respect there would still be a need for some formal teaching to supplement the ‘project work’ the previous post referred to, even if this did not take the form of the traditional ‘lesson’ with students occupying rows of desks listening to their teacher. Neither does this need to be the hierarchical subject based approach of the National Curriculum. We don’t want to replace a bad NC  with a ‘good’ one.

Yet agreeing what the curriculum should not be, is far easier than setting out what it should include. There have been key initiatives in areas like English and humanities, with blueprints for ‘real’ citizenship education and for the discussion of ‘controversial issues’, and of course, recent calls for a new focus on race . But developing an across-the-board alternative ‘national’ curriculum is a much more difficult undertaking. Discussion has tended to focus on principles, or how new types of cross curricular learning should be organised. But there would always be serious concerns about how content should be agreed, future accountability and democracy. We can’t just return to pre NC  days when teachers had ‘professional autonomy’ over what and how they taught.

With subject bodies lacking political clout and teacher unions preoccupied with defending members immediate interests, it has been employer organisations, or at least the various quangos servicing them, that have attempted to put forward a new agenda, and argue that in response to technological developments, new types of vocational skills and technical knowledge are required and that the subject based academic National Curriculum is failing. (Though employer representatives do not attack the status academic education enjoys. Indeed, their continue to draw many of their higher level recruits from the arts and humanities courses of elite universities!)

But while the work place is changing and employers may be right to emphasise the importance of higher level generic or ‘soft skills’ (progressive educators have continued to promote these) the technical requirements for jobs of the future are not clear.  There will certainly be a demand for a knowledge rich technological/AI informed elite, but not everybody will need to be computer programmers! And besides, technological knowledge changes so quickly that it is likely to be out of date by the time a student enters the workplace. On the contrary, many argue that more workers will be ‘deskilled’ as automation expands.

 The previous post also recognised that we live in ‘credentialised’ societies, where any real secure employment is  dependent on gaining  qualifications that are traditionally high status.  As more and more jobs become ‘graduatised’ degrees are needed to get, but not necessarily to do them,  students seek particular qualifications because of their (extrinsic) exchange value in the labour market, rather than any intrinsic educational qualities.

This illustrates how major changes in education are dependent on changes in other parts of society.  Unless there are changes to the way educational qualifications are used to provide access to labour market positions, then changes will always be compromised. In the meantime though, the issue of ‘what sort of curriculum ?’ should be put back on the agenda.

3 thoughts on “Reforming the Curriculum (part 2)

  1. Martin,

    I would be keen to include a version of this and the part 1 that it refers to in the April Post-16 Educator – if that is OK with you? Deadline would be 20 March, word count maybe 1500, flexible in either direction.)

    We could possibly have a zoom event related to it as well, depending what you think.


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