On A Knowledge-Rich Curriculum

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The aim of education is the knowledge, not of facts, but of values.  – William Ralph Inge “The Training of the Reason” 

Do we know that torturing or killing a person for entertainment is wrong? Or is it that we just find it unpalatable? Is it merely guesswork on our part, is truth, outside of scientific truth, merely relative? These questions, asked by the late, great, Mary Midgley give me pause. If knowledge is to free us from superstition, from being wrong about something then what of the knowledge that explores doubt and uncertainty. Is knowing that I don’t know feasible, is much knowledge of a non-certain variety, potentially both truthful or non-truthful, or degrees in between…?

Context, time, place, people might make it so…

Midgley wonders whether we can divide knowledge into two parts asking whether these two parts are:

…science, which securely meets… high standards of certainty, and the rest which is mere amateur bungling.

How much of a curriculum should be given over to dealing with ‘amateur bungling’? She goes on:

There are innumerable aspects of human experience besides the scientific one that we can perfectly well discuss – not, indeed, ever expecting to say anything final and infallible about them, but still successfully communicating, establishing certain things, understanding each other to some extent, and managing to alter our lives sensibly in many ways in consequence. p37-8*

Knowledge, for Midgley has an important role – knowing what to think, what to do, even not knowing what to think and do. This knowledge is organised by values. Sometimes it seems obvious to many people what might be wrong or right, what is good, bad, what is better, not so good, beautiful, not so beautiful… judgement, taste, tradition, revolution, discrimination, all come into building arguments, discussions, comparisons but not certainty. This knowledge, about how to get involved in the conversation, takes a lot of knowing about things, organised into schema of competing values in which what we know is always open to amendment.

The committing of knowledge to long-term memory begs the question about the value of that knowledge. And about the attitude of the ‘knower’ of the knowledge to the knowledge they are being taught. The input-output model of education in which something is taught and is, through various methods, lodged in long term memory is problematic because knowledge is never known nor remembered by each child in the same way. Knowledge is imbued with each pupil’s, indeed person’s, way of knowing it. Values might be marshalled for argument’s sake in defence, attack of said knowledge before, during or after it having been taught. Stick that on a knowledge organiser.

We don’t just teach things that are right or wrong, we also open up huge caverns of doubt in which truths are more difficult to ascertain, but ascertain them we do, in the world in which we live, in our time, in conversations with others to establish how we might live. This is the sort of knowledge that concerns many areas of schooling and is the sort of knowledge that helps ensure a curriculum is knowledge-rich. But don’t expect a child to know it in the same way that the teacher does.

A knowledge-rich curriculum is values driven – and not just one set of values determined as right or wrong – but the difficult search through competing values that help us determine how we might live.

 

*Wisdom, Information And Wonder: What is Knowledge For?

 

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