Curriculum Shorts (Some short musings about curriculum)
We all know what we mean by a knowledge-rich curriculum but, as with all pithy phrases, we don’t. And if that isn’t a great contradiction, I don’t know what is. Knowledge-rich can mean, within certain, wide-ranging, parameters, anything you want it to mean. Lots of people can use the phrase and pretend that there is some sort of agreement as long as we don’t look too closely at what might be meant.
‘We all teach knowledge’ is one of the phrases used to argue against ‘knowledge-rich’ approaches, and you can see how a problem might arise… We do all, indeed, teach knowledge.
In many people’s pockets and on many people’s desks, a knowledge-rich environment is but a tap or a click away. There is a lot of knowledge out there on the internet, in the library, there is more easily accessible knowledge than anyone could learn in a lifetime. Knowledge is everywhere.
If by knowledge-rich one means ‘a lot of knowledge’ it can easily be argued that each child could google their hearts (and minds) out every day, make changes to their long term memories and tick the ‘knowledge-rich’ box. But this would be facetious. A disorganised romp through knowledge of varying degrees of veracity that is thrown up by a search engine is not a curriculum.
In the UK, in the far off days of 2015, most people didn’t realise their identities might be about to change, but from mid-2016 to the present day apparently more people identify as Brexiteers or Remainers than identify as Labour or Conservative. Arguments are couched in terms of newly-found perspectives upon the world. Some people see the world very differently to how they used to see it and ‘knowledge’, facts, truths, opinions are all marshalled for their particular way of making meaning out of these ‘disruptive’ times.
What makes knowledge rich is how it is organised. Knowledge is organised into subjects and disciplines which have their ways of interrogating the world, it is also organised by values – how we feel about the world, what is important to us. It is organised by a number of narratives within and across subjects and disciplines that can open up a number of arguments, clashes and disagreements upon which people often pitch their identities. Knowledge is the stuff we marshal to help us make meaning in this world.
If we wanted to, it would be entirely possible to use knowledge that justifies one particular view of the world. But this wouldn’t be an education, it would be indoctrination. A ‘Remainer’ school might think it was offering the one true way of seeing the world, but that would be wrong. If we value the idea of free will, we should be helping children to question values and ways of making meaning, knowledge-rich is not rich at all if it fails to show the importance of the great controversies that enable human beings to argue about how we live and how we might live.
It is the job of curriculum to show children a variety of perspectives by which to make meaning in the world. These perspectives are, importantly, of this world, organised subjectively, they still tell us truths about how the world is and might be. What teachers must do is ensure the quality of the knowledge and arguments through the competing perspectives they present. Organised by the common pursuits of wisdom, different ways of seeing can be possible and rather than just an accumulation of knowledge that merely conforms to one side of an argument or no argument at all, children can be free to think, to interrogate and use knowledge to help enrich their lives.