My thoughts on knowledge

I’m sitting here at work. I think I’m meant to be not procrastinating, but that doesn’t appear to be happening (to all the English teachers out there aghast at my second sentence, please be aware that my intention was to place the “not” in that exact place for humourous effect, rather than giving the appearance of illiterate buffoonarism).

The other day I read a post from Danielle that got me thinking (this wasn’t the first; I doubt it will be the last!). In it she posed the question:

Who has decided what ‘knowledge’ should be taught in our curriculum?

She then goes on to give a multitude of example of knowledge we are imparting to our students (trigonometry, Shakespeare, Okazaki fragments). I would add that some of those topics I know little to nothing about yet my world is not collapsing.

I would also like to point out that my experience with Shakespeare at school was fraught. English wasn’t my strongest subject and my appreciation of the Bard only came later in life – appallingly thanks to Kenneth Branagh’s films rather than any concerted efforts to read the collected works. With the benefit of hindsight and maturity I now realise what my English teachers were attempting at the time. For that I apologise.

But I digress. What Miss D says about knowledge is interesting. Indeed – who as decided what knowledge is important? This question has resonated with me, particularly as I am currently planning term 2 work for my class. As part of this process I am looking through the New Zealand Curriculum for achievement objectives that align with the topic my students have chosen. This has been difficult as the topic they chose (related to our grand theme for the year: Out of this World) was Unsolved Mysteries. When we fleshed this out during the last week of last term some of the sub-topics include the Loch Ness Monster, UFOs, Sasquatch/Bigfoot and the Mary Celeste.

Now as I go through the NZ Curriculum the question comes in: where does this subject area of very high student interest fall within our curriculum? Science? History? In primary school our curriculum still contains history under the auspices of Social Sciences. The AOs within talk of people, community, culture and citizenship but not much about cryptozoology, Bermuda Triangles or alien visitation. Of course, this content knowledge can be linked through the English AOs, however, when integrating the curriculum you want to draw from many or all the subject areas not just one or two. This is such a rich area of content for students (and adults!!) and I would be selling my students short if I said, “We can’t do this because I’m not able to align it with the curriculum.”

Towards the end of her post, Danielle says:

What if society shifted towards a more holistic view, where we considered ourselves as part of a network and existing as a network? How would the world be different?

That is the ultimate question; one I don’t really have an answer too. In saying that I do know a few people who would not enjoy this education system because of the intensely difficult task measuring key competencies or dispositions when compared with measuring, say, basic facts knowledge, kings and queens of England or Polynesian waka migrations to Aotearoa.

Measurable assessment data still drives a lot of our decision-making in education. How do we get past this? How do we move to that holistic system Danielle was talking about where everyone at school (students and teachers) are part of a network and existing as a network? A place where health, well-being and self-worth are just as important as maths, reading or writing.

So many intense questions contained within a great thought-provoking post. I will ponder them further and perhaps some answers / ideas will present themselves.

Mr B

PS: I hope I haven’t missed Danielle’s point. I’m quite good at doing that sort of thing.