Sunday, 31 March 2013

Teachers Who Hate Knowledge? Really?

The current, slightly polarising, debate is about teachers who deny knowledge matters. I can imagine that there might be some misguided folk who do actually state their position as strongly and there will be another group to whom Gove is the saviour, the Messiah, of our education system. His position is that learning, rote learning, is so important it must take prime place in his rhetoric.

As I often do, I prefer a middle path, one where some knowledge matters; and how children learn that knowledge, so they can both use it and make sense of it matters. Not just having the knowledge but able to use in a meaningful way. Mastermind, the TV programme with the black chair and the chosen subject, is an example of knowledge for its own sake. I am pleased when science questions get asked. I can often answer them. And the actually are quite simple. Knowledge that I have I can usually restate. But when the art questions are asked I probably struggle. They seem hard. Actually knowledge of facts falls into one of two boxes. If I know it, easy. If I don't know the fact, then it is almost impossible.

My problem with the the Gove model is that we don't really know which bits of knowledge matter, or more importantly, will matter for children who will not enter the employment market for many years. It can't be that important that any *particular* piece of knowledge is that important, can it? Let me take a brief look at electronics. It used to be that knowing how to solder transistors into printed circuit boards was important. No longer, though, as what matters now is being able to create circuits with chips, integrated circuits. There are some similarities but there are important differences. Now, I don't mind if you learn to solder one or the other. Both give you useful skills. But can one be more important than another? Really?
The point is that we need some knowledge but we can't know which bits matter. Which bits will matter in ten or twenty years time.

I can't say we should not teach knowledge; I think we should, but I want the balance to be right. We should be ensuring our children have the right attitude to learning. Bit like Carol Deck says. Growth mindset - then they can specialise, ready for their appearance on Mastermind.

Is there a bit of knowledge that we all must have and that will remain until the end of time? What is it?

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