Prof Michael Young on why
knowledge must be put centre-stage in schools.
We must take
students beyond their everyday lives (SPIKED, 9 sept. 2013)
Many teachers today
have an actual fear of knowledge. They find it frightening, threatening,
dominating, and oppressive.
Michael Young, emeritus professor at the Institute of
Education in London and author of Bringing Knowledge Back In, is determined to
challenge what he sees as a turn against knowledge in education. The crucial role of schools is to give
pupils access to knowledge that they wont get from their experiences and that
takes them beyond their everyday lives, he tells me. As society gets more
complex, this becomes ever more important.
Although this connection between knowledge and education may
seem obvious to people who do not work in schools or universities, today many
teachers and lecturers consider the idea that they should impart knowledge to
their students to be contentious. This was recently demonstrated in the outrage
expressed by members of the teachers unions over UK education secretary
Michael Goves plans to increase the academic rigour of the subjects children
are taught in schools. As we sit in his greenhouse-like office on a hot day at
the end of the summer, Professor Young wryly acknowledges: Whats most
important about kids going to school is being forgotten.
Professor Young has a longstanding interest in the
relationship between knowledge and schools, although his own views have shifted
considerably over the years. Following the publication of his influential book
Knowledge and Control in 1971, Young came to be associated with the new
sociology of education, a movement which questioned the role of the education
system in reproducing social inequalities through imposing a curriculum that only
served the interests of the elite. Since the 1990s and the experience of trying
to put the new sociology of educations ideas into practice in South Africa,
Young has consistently challenged this position, resulting in the publication
in 2007 of Bringing Knowledge Back In. In the book, he argues for knowledge to
be at the heart of education and decries its replacement with either skills
training or relativist assumptions that there are only individual experiences
Perhaps one legacy of the movements in sociology and teacher
training in the 1970s is that today there is a great deal of confusion among
teachers over what knowledge actually is. Teaching knowledge is all too often
perceived as drilling children with facts in a Gradgrind-like manner. But Young
is clear that knowledge is far more than just facts or information, although he
sees no problem with children being encouraged to learn things by heart.
Perhaps greater confusion, Young suggests, arises with the tendency to
collapse everyday knowledge with other types of knowledge. Young agrees with
the Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky, who distinguished between everyday and
theoretical knowledge. Vygotsky didnt argue that children come to school to
reject all their everyday concepts, but instead that they learn how to build
upon and develop their everyday knowledge and move beyond it.