The turn to knowledge in the school curriculum: Should it be resisted?
In recent years the school curriculum has been characterised by an emphasis on developing skills. The National Curriculum 2008 contained such an emphasis, the RSA Opening Minds curriculum was heavily biased towards skills and schools themselves emphasised personal, learning and thinking skills. More recently there has been a move towards ‘bringing knowledge back in’ (Young 2008). The intellectual justification for this comes from two directions. From sociology, the work of Michael Young has revealed the extent to which, although ‘Powerful knowledge’ is a construction of ‘knowledge of the powerful’, it achieves its warrant not only through serving the interests of particular groups but also by following disciplinary processes for its generation and evaluation. From psychology, the work of E.D. Hirsch has demonstrated that knowledge, stored in the long-term memory, is a necessary prerequisite for the development of skills. At the same time, policy statements have emphasised the importance of knowledge in the curriculum and, from a practitioner perspective, the recent publication by Daisy Christodoulou has made the work of Hirsch available to teachers.
The ‘knowledge turn’ in the curriculum therefore seems inevitable but is it desirable? Drawing on a historical analysis of the music curriculum, Professor Cain argues that a focus on knowledge, divorced from skills, can lead to a curriculum that fails to engage the majority of students, with potentially damaging consequences for students, their teachers and society. Professor Cain suggests that this analysis has implications for the curriculum as a whole.
Tim Cain is Professor in Education at Edge Hill University. He directs the research centre for Schools, Colleges and Teacher Education (SCaTE) and teaches research methods on undergraduate and postgraduate programmes. Professor Cain conducts research into how teachers, particularly in schools, use research findings and collaborative research methods to develop their practice. His work in this area has appeared in Croatian, Dutch, German, Italian, Spanish, and Slovene publications and he has given Keynote Addresses to international conferences in Belgium and Croatia.
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