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    Klik hier om een link te hebben waarmee u dit artikel later terug kunt lezen.Onderwijs. Michael Young over 'Powerful knowledge ' e.d.

    The curriculum and the entitlement to knowledge ; Michael Young, Institute of Education, University of London(25 March 2014)

    1.The educational and political challenges to knowledge

    The central role of knowledge in education has undoubtedly declined over the years despite the claims that more and more occupations will be for graduates. This is partly explained by the decisions to expand opportunities for higher education but without  any parallel expansion of resources,   I will therefore start by identifying  two kinds of trends which challenge the idea that education should be an entitlement to knowledge; I will refer to them as  the educational challenge and the political challenge.  While we need to remember the political challenge which comes from the government and the wider society, our primary responsibility as those who work in  or are involved in the education system is to limit or even reverse the attacks on knowledge that come from within. It such attacks therefore and the different ways that they are expressed that I shall give most of my attention to in this talk. They are located within the educational community but also  associated with the policies of the pre 2010 governments, Labour and Conservative but especially the pre 2010 Labour governments.  If your prime minister thinks our education policy is the best economic policy, we have, as Tony Blair said on a number of occasions, this is hardly surprising-responding to the assumed needs of the economy  will never lead to a knowledge-led curriculum.  These educational attacks on knowledge and their emphasis, for example, on generic skills was largely implicit           until the election of the coalition government in  2010 . A skepticism about knowledge was            alive in the  abstract and  esoteric debates within cultural studies and the social sciences and their endlessly assertions   that  there is  no such thing as ‘objective knowledge’; furthermore they have become  a growing feature of much educational studies –often spilling over via my own discipline, the sociology of education.

    “All knowledge is situated knowledge, reflecting the position of the producer or knower, at a certain historical moment in a given cultural context. ”  This is how the American philosopher Kathleen Lennon puts it, but hers is in no way an exceptional assertion. If all knowledge is situated, this leads to a relativism which rejects the assumption of their being ‘better’ knowledge  in any field that could or  should underpin the curriculum. As a consequence, the curriculum becomes open to a whole range of purposes other than the acquisition of knowledge.  Perhaps the most significant but least discussed is the argument that there is no knowledge important enough that it should take precedence over  the assumptions about  student motivation, interest or  performance  . I shall illustrate this claim with some historical examples. However, the sea change in attitudes to knowledge that came with the election of the Coalition Government is worth mentioning first. After 2010, the skepticism about knowledge that had characterised many in the educational community was faced with an open and explicit alternative-  the present government’s proposals for the National Curriculum, their new emphasis on subject knowledge and their plans for revising examinations.

    It  was then that the skepticism about knowledge within the educational community became              a series of attacks that were explicit, political and inextricably related to opposition to government policies in general. This is well illustrated in newspaper columns of distinguished journalists and former Secretaries of State and various letters to the national press from leading teacher educators.

    I shall draw on two kinds of arguments to illustrate my case about the ‘attack on knowledge’, one is loosely historical and one more personal and subjective. The former will trace this skepticism about knowledge back  to the  curriculum reforms of  the 1970’s and take us up to 2010; however, the policies of the coalition government had their roots in the work of the Think Thanks such as Civitas, Politeia and Reform  which advised the Conservative Party before the Election. I shall then present some personal reflections on the extent to which what some have called a ‘fear of knowledge’ has come to pervade much thinking in the educational community and more broadly the thinking of those on the Left involved in education – both are groups that one might have expected to defend the entitlement to knowledge as a right of all pupils.

    This section will be personal rather than formally researched for a particular reason. I came in to the debates about the curriculum from the sociology of education. However, nothing prepared me for the level and intensity of opposition to the idea of a knowledge-led curriculum from those on the Left; it was invariably associated with the policies introduced by Michael Gove.  I am no Gove supporter- far from it – but he has opened up the debate about the curriculum that was not even hinted at before, even by the launch of the National Curriculum in 1988. What especially disturbing is the extent that the debate becomes almost ad hominem with the attacks not on the policy but that it is some kind of personal project of the Secretary of State.  Following the endorsement of some of my ideas by the Expert Group on the Curriculum led by Tim Oates some have suggested that I must be Gove’s speech writer, that I act as a kind of  political ‘cover’ for all right wing policies, or that argument for a knowledge-led curriculum implies a deficit theory of children as having no knowledge that they bring to their schooling. In trying to argue, as I have, that the case for a knowledge-led curriculum is consistent with a policy for social justice and greater equality, I  have almost lost good friends and colleagues of many years standing.              

    I mention these personal experiences because they may illustrate how deep this fracture in ideas that the Government’s policies have brought about. Gove has challenged two lynch pins of  political thought  about education- knowledge is right wing and exclusive and learning is progressive and Left Wing. It maybe that questioning what almost amount to shibboleths is too uncomfortable when the old resolutions, either around widening participation or a more political alternative  do not seem to work as they did in the 1970’s.  It is either that many of the cultural bonds holding political and educational ideas together have been broken or that the broader politics in our neo-liberal capitalist world   have become so diffuse that educational differences within the Left that have long  laid dormant have come to the fore as the clearest expressions of difference. Good writers and researchers dedicated to all – through comprehensive education, whose work I have the greatest respect for,  invariably avoid any discussion of the curriculum or knowledge and limit themselves to organizational questions.  Why do they invariably avoid curriculum issues? Maybe this is because they have a theory of comprehensive organization they have no theory of a comprehensive curriculum.   Also I think that  maybe it is because curriculum issues are difficult and do not fit easily into traditional Fabian left/right distinctions about greater/lesser equality. It is as if we lack a kind of collective curriculum imagination that might replace those that feel increasingly out of date and this is not helped, as I have argued recently by the field of curriculum studies   which  has become so frightened about knowledge that it escapes into abstractions and almost loses its object- what are pupils learning in school.

    The traditional English model of general education articulated so well by Paul Hirst in the 1960’s  but with a much longer history is no longer discussed as the basis for a modern  form of curriculum for today- some philosophers like John White start from well being and happiness but this  could apply equally to any institutions even those like the family or local community which have no curricula. Likewise is no educational  discussion of the contemporary relevance of the Leavis/Snow debate about the two cultures,  or of  Matthew Arnold and his form of nostalgic egalitarianism. These writers seem dated now but they did try to imagine a potentially common culture for their time which is something we at least could build on. Perhaps the last thinker who began to tackle this problem was the cultural and literary critic, Raymond Williams; we lack our educational  Raymond Williams.  I mention these thoughts because they point to an absent cultural resource which maybe explains why the curriculum debates have been so un-textured and almost vitriolic.


     I will conclude this talk  with my response to the attacks on knowledge and the lessons from Gove’s reforms without adopting them uncritically- like Matthew Arnold in the last century theyare more than tinged with nostalgia in his comments on literature and crafts . We need to do this, I suggest if we are to establish a more just form of entitlement to knowledge for all . I will do this in explaining   how I came from the sociology of knowledge to  the  idea of ‘powerful knowledge’ as a curriculum principle. It does not solve all the problems, and one of its criteria , that powerful knowledge is inescapably specialized knowledge, is a double edged sword.

    Specialization, as the French sociologist Emile Durkheim argued maybe the motor of progress but it is also the motor of new divisions. I hope, however that the idea of powerful knowledge might be the beginning of a resource for the education community, both in constructing necurricula at the national and school level  and in  persuading  governments of all parties of the conditions necessary for the  principle of ‘entitlement to knowledge for all’ to be realized.

    Having introduced the educational challenge to, or even the  attack on knowledge, I turn briefly the political challenge.It is far from new and less overt than the educational challenge in that it is expressed in the policies of the same government  which defends a knowledge-based curriculum.           Here the key question is ‘an entitlement to knowledge for whom? For the few – or for all?    Do current government policies consider the conditions for any significant   extension of the entitlement to knowledge?   Or do they rely largely on parent choice and market pressures now that most power is removed from LEAs and the QCDA is abolished. Despite their support for a knowledge-led National  Curriculum, it is the government’s  economic policies that will influence how the  entitlement to knowledge is distributed – two examples of many illustrate this point. One is the reduction of state support for humanities degrees in universities and the cuts in teaching budgets; will concentrate humanities degrees    in the top universities  where those from state schools are under-represented. Another is the ‘re-structuring’ of   educational maintenance grants designed  for low income families with children staying at school after 16.

    2. A brief curriculum history

    The next section is  a brief curriculum history; it can give no more than  a flavour of what I mean by the, until recently, implicit educational challenge to knowledge and its  underlying relativism. An early phase of curriculum reform in the 1970’s was supported by the then Schools Council. In retrospect it was to deal with the collapse of the youth labour market and the expansion of those staying on at school at minimum cost. There were  a string of curriculum developments somewhat euphemistically  titled Mathematics for the Majority, and Science and Geography for the ‘young school  leaver’. The knowledge base of traditional subjects was weakened so that  more practical, work-related and community oriented activities  could be included which it was hoped to     interest the so-called ‘non-academic’ child.  These pupils, who previously has entered factory jobs on leaving school became a construct of the curriculum reforms themselves; for example the Newsom Report generated not only the ‘Newsom child ’ but Newsom and sometimes ROSLA (Raising of the School leaving Age) Departments in schools. In the 1980’s the focus shifted towards the examinations for students who had previously been assumed to be ‘un-examinable’; this involved  initially developing Certificates of Secondary Education(CSE’s) and Extended Education(CEE’s) and their later integration           in  the GCSE and its Grade C boundary that we still have today. Then in 1988 came the first  National Curriculum which defined 10 subjects that were to be compulsory for all pupils up to the age of 16. It turned out to be un-manageable and led to teacher strikes and some sensible reforms; however, progressively during the next decade compulsory requirements were reduced so that two decades later only Maths, English and Science with RE remained as compulsory until the age of 16. Schools were free to drop history, geography, and foreign Languages and fewer offered single science subjects and allowed to provide ‘vocational’ subjects. 

    Finally from 2007, there were two further steps in modifying the knowledge- base of the curriculum; these were the RSA’s popular Opening Minds programme which used a competence model emphasizing the experience pupils had of the local community rather than access to subject knowledge. At the same time the QCDA introduced a set of equivalence levels on the basis of which non GCSE subjects such as personal and social development were given GCSE equivalence.

    The criteria and focus changed in 30+ years but the links to an implicit relativism in relation to distribution of subject knowledge  remained and subjects which were linked to progression to university and even in many cases to employment   were the entitlement for the few not for all. The absence of knowledge was more explicit in the earlier programmes. For example in the Mathematics for the Majority Programme, the emphasis was on mathematics oriented to its use in everyday life. However as the research of Paul Dowling and others was to show, Maths curricula oriented to everyday contexts made it extremely difficult for students to grasp and use mathematical concepts independently of their context. In other words the so-called Majority were excluded from the power of mathematics and the generalising capacities it offers, and in a similar way in the programmes for science and geography.

    The designers of the new curricula either rejected the idea that there was objectively better knowledge that was less bound to particular contexts or experience, or made the assumption that such knowledge was not accessible to all pupils. At the same time, each of these developments contributed to the year- on – year increase in pass rates at GCSE that lasted for 30 years. As no one wanted to appear to criticise teachers there was virtually no debate on curricula that relied on a relativist apprsubject-based  EBacc  as the new criterion  for ranking school performance,  and the findings of Alison Wolf’s Report on 14-19 vocational education to expose the reality of these earlier policies. Wolf’s data showed that while increasing numbers of 14-16 year old students gained certificates equivalent to GCSE’s, they gained little knowledge.  Many of these courses have since lost their eligibility for funding and schools began to switch to academic subjects.  One problem with the Wolf recommendations  is worth mentioning because it symbolises a wider problem of resource distribution and the availability of specialist staff.  A key finding  of Alison Wolf’s report was that many students with low GCSE Grades in Maths and English  started level 1 and level 2 vocational courses but  did not continue to study mathematics or English after the age of  16- something unique in European countries, and despite the fact that these subjects are those  most looked for by employers.   The government has now made continuing study of English and Mathematics compulsory for these students. However many  colleges have neither the staff not the resources to offer students the extended and innovative programmes in English and Maths that they need following their previous failures, and they end up in courses on   functional literacy and numeracy which make later  progression to GCSE almost impossible and have limited  credibility among employers.

    To summarise – subject knowledge, in defining the entitlement to powerful knowledge for all pupils, involves rules agreed by subject specialists about what counts as valid knowledge; such criteria which derive from the pedagogic knowledge of subject specialist teachers and their links with discipline- based specialists in the universities provide access to the ‘best ’ knowledge that can be acquired by pupils at different levels thus ensuring the possibility of progression. However curriculum policy since the 1970’s took a different turn; faced with growing numbers of pupils who had previously left school for unskilled factory jobs, subject rules and criteria were modified  in developing new curricula that it was hoped would relate to the interests and motivations of such pupils. The  alternative, which would have involved much greater investment in curriculum and pedagogic research but could have led to  a combination of innovative pedagogies, smaller classes and  an extension of  the length of time for pupils to reach the standards of GCSE Grade C or better.  These were a series of pragmatic curriculum solutions responsive to short term difficult pedagogic situations faced by the schools with pupils not motivated to learn but still willing to remain at school. This curriculum differentiation was seen at the time as a necessary pragmatic response to what was assumed to be the distribution of abilities among these ‘Newsom pupils. Well intentioned in conception, by focusing on the attributes of low achieving, poorly motivated pupils as a given, the curricula designed for them treated knowledge criteria as flexible.  As a consequence courses were designed which offered little possibility of progression or future employment- the pupils themselves   became the   precursors of what are now known as NEETS(Not in Education, Employment or Training). It was not surprising that the current government’s reforms which followed the Wolf Report represented a serious challenge to the teachers involved, or that they generated considerable opposition. The alternative of extending learning time and developing new pedagogic and curricular strategies would have raised insurmountable resource problems and a confidence among teachers that with support and time, the vast majority of students can reach GCSE at Grade C in mathematics and English before they leave school. I turn next to some examples of the ‘fear of knowledge ’ culture within the educational community in this country and elsewhere.

    3. Is knowledge really under attack?

    It is, in a way, a bizarre question. How could anyone in education be against pupils ‘knowing more’? How could students on any course not be entitled to the ‘best knowledge’ there is and yet such ideas are attacked or resisted in a variety of ways. The American philosopher Paul Boghlossian refers to a ‘fear of knowledge’, not only among teachers. Here is an example that illustrates his case in education. A colleague of mine spends a lot of time visiting students on teaching practice- he commented that in all the schools he went to the one thing he never heard teachers discussing was knowledge or what they were teaching - behavior-yes, attitude to learning- yes, test scores– yes, but never ‘what were they learning?’ or ‘what might excite students and help them see the world in new ways? It was as if emphasizing knowledge was going to be intimidating and might put them off getting making sure they ‘learned enough’ to get good grades. 

    Another way this fear of knowledge is manifest is in how learning has taken over from education in policy and  curriculum  language; for example,  we have module at the Institute  called vocational learning not vocational education. Learning is seen as open, good, progressive,creating opportunities for new learning, why disrupt things by enquiring what they are learning? The current   emphasis on always being open to new learning- the ubiquitous ‘learning to learn’- can easily make students lose confidence in what  they already know; if a student has acquired some knowledge that helps her or him understand the world better,  learning which may involve giving  up that knowledge,   should be difficult, not easy. The shift to learning has another anti-knowledge consequence- it makes teachers feel they  should not be in authority over their pupils just because they know more - it is as if authority is something uncomfortable and un-democratic especially when   knowledge is   disassociated from learning and easily associated with facts and ED Hirsch’s lists of ‘what every child should know’ . This is to criticize how Hirsch’s lists  can be used, not his own ideas; however it serves to remind us that it is access to a ‘relation to  knowledge’ not facts or even scientific laws that is the purpose of education. That is why the internet, although a fantastic resource of information can never replace the pedagogy of teachers if pupils are to acquire a relation to knowledge.

    Another example of the fear of knowledge is  found if teachers are led to confuse a necessary respect for the  cultural values of a community  with the truth of the  explanations offered by school subjects. Multi-cultural societies pose quite new problems for teachers; they have to distinguish the  ‘context specific’ meanings that are a feature of all  ‘cultures’ with the ‘context independent’ meanings of the curriculum- students may ‘know’ much about their city through growing up in it; however    geography teaches them quite different type of knowledge  about ‘cities’- knowledge which they can use to generalize with.


    Two other things are worth mentioning about the ‘fear of’ ‘attack on’ knowledge. Firstly, and largely un- noticed outside the social sciences and humanities, traditions in philosophy have developed from Nietzsche , Heidegger and Wittgenstein leading  to today’s post modernists  such as Richard Rorty, Lyotard and Foucault which have  made the critique of  the western tradition of knowledge into an intellectual project .  This means that  ironically,  the anti-knowledge educationists and social scientists  can call on  philosophy to make the case against knowledge and as  a support for their anti- knowledge arguments. These philosopher don’t often write  about education although Foucault’s book Discipline and Punish and Louis Althusser’s  Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses have  had a powerful, if baleful  influence in educational studies.

    A second irony which almost amounts to a hypocrisy  was brought home to me when I gave a lecture some years ago at the Royal Society of Arts on the topic ‘what are schools for?’ There were over 200 people at the lecture and I got repeatedly attacked during question time, especially from those working in community education for arguing that the main purpose of schools- even if often not realised – was to provide access to knowledge for all students.  I could not check on the background of those attending, but the vast majority were Fellows of the RSA.

    Given how they are recruited, I don’t think it would be an  exaggeration to say that virtually everyone in the room had a degree of some kind  and  yet they were arguing that the knowledge they had acquired should not be an entitlement of all children.  If it is  not hypocrisy it is certainly an example of confusion.. It was if they wanted to demonstrate that they were progressive  but not let this effect their own personal  lives, or no doubt, that of their children.

    I was recently in Brazil speaking at a conference on  the entitlement for all children to corknowledge. Most members of University Education Faculties oppose the idea of a ‘common core of knowledge’  for all children- they see it as a threat to the autonomy of teachers and a denial of Brazil’s cultural diversity.  At the same time most of them send their children to private schools which ensure their children have access to core knowledge. I did not invent this; it was reported to me by a member of the   university in Sao Paulo  who invited me.

    The context and history of  Brazil  is very different from ours- it was not so long ago that it  was a society based on slavery.  However, the anti-knowledge educationists who oppose the need  for a national core curriculum make the same mistake as the those who reject  the current  curriculum reforms in this country. In Brazil they associate any  policy  for a National common core curriculum with the anti-democratic  military dictatorship of the 1980’s, not with the potentially emancipatory power of knowledge; the parallel in this country is with opposition to the Secretary of State’s curriculum reforms because they are associated with a right wing  Conservative government.   It may be that some people find it difficult at least on some issues to accept that there may be knowledge that is not tied to a context.  There are many things that need criticizing in our current government ‘s education policy but I would argue,  one is not the idea of a  common  curriculum for all pupils up to the age of  16.  This leads me to the most important and difficult part of what I want to say about the knowledge and the curriculum. I mean difficult

    in two senses:

    4. Why a fear of knowledge?

    First, how do we explain that it is educationalists, mostly on the Left,  those who support a more equal society in all spheres of life,  who are so opposed to the idea of all pupils being entitled to powerful knowledge? What has happened to the Enlightenment idea that knowledge is the only real source of freedom– freedom from being trapped by one’s own experience- freedom as the sociologist  Basil Bernstein put it   “ to think the unthinkable and the not yet thought”. Experience alone does not entitle us to   those freedoms; freedom may be a right of all, but it has to be worked for and learned – however alien much  potentially emancipatory knowledge may seem to be at first . It is because the pedagogy involved in ensuring the entitlement to knowledge for an ever wider proportion of each cohort is difficult, that in educationally successful  countries, teaching is one of the most highly respected professions and education is the university faculty as in Finland with the highest ratio of applicants to places-an  unthinkable situation in England – Education degrees  more difficult to get into that medicine and law!!

    Why are educationists not fighting for that entitlement to knowledge for all  but actually opposed to it? We have to understand this. I think we are dealing with something   much more than another academic argument- This is how the philosopher John Searle  puts it: the view that all knowledge is tied to the circumstances of its own production and context  and therefore essentially relative; there is in other words no ‘better knowledge’); he argues that such people  have a deep metaphysical vision and  no kind of detailed refutations address that vision”. Their vision is one of creating the conditions of freedom which they see as threatened by knowledge and its  ‘objectivity, its ‘rationality’ and its associations with science – the most rational form of human enquiry. This vision leads them  to put their faith in experience and the knowledge people generate in the contexts in which they find themselves. It is as if  reason has led them to oppose reason in favour of experience. It is difficult to know where if anywhere this leaves teachers or schools or educational researchers who take this view. All they can do is create critiques of the prevailing system like ‘a curriculum of the dead’, that provide  no tools forenabling them to envisage alternatives. Here is how one such critic – a distinguished Australian sociologist describes his idea of   curricular justice. It is, she states :   “a curriculum organized around the experience, culture and needs of the least advantaged members of the society – rather than the most advantaged, as things stand now. A socially just curriculum will draw extensively on indigenous knowledge, working class experience, women’s  in thinking about the curriculumcexperience, immigrant cultures, multiple languages, and so on” 

    This is where it leads if, in thinking about the curriculum, you focus on knowers( or those who are reluctant learners)   and their experience  not knowledge the curriculum might give them access to. In effect such an approach wants to roll back history to a time when there were no schools and life as Thomas Hobbes famously  put it was “Nasty, brutish and short”; but there would of course be no place in such a society   for those  critics or Thomas Hobbes either. The alternative is not easy, but people do change their minds and this must always involve a combination of theory and experience. In the final section of my talk I want to describe how I came to the idea of ‘powerful knowledge’ and why I think it might be a useful idea for thinking about the curriculum.

     5. Why ‘powerful knowledge’? A very brief autobiography

    I was an enthusiastic social constructivist when my first book, Knowledge and Control was published in 1971.   I endorsed the view expressed by the French sociologist, Pierre Bourdieu, that  the curriculum is a ‘cultural arbitrary’, subjects a form of tyranny, and pedagogy a species of symbolic violence.  Later I found it useful to describe  this ‘social constructivist’ approach as leading to a view of the curriculum as ‘knowledge of the powerful’. The strength of such a view of the curriculum was that it was a reminder that unequal power relations are always involved in decisions about the curriculum as in all other aspects of education. However, in its focus on power and who decides, all it points to is the need to change the groups who decide; it offers no curriculum alternatives; what, for example might a curriculum decided by those without power be like?

    It  was working with the democratic movement in South Africa in the early 1990’s  that taught me that I had been wrong in my approach to the curriculum, and that some of my early critics such as Richard Pring in his justly famous paper ,’knowledge out of control’,  had been right. The democratic movement in South Africa had overthrown apartheid, at least in terms of the right of all citizens (not just Whites as under apartheid) to vote.  Many got involved in creating a more just education system; they   drew on the work of Paulo Friere and identified with ‘people’s  education’. The message this slogan carried  was knowledge was a ‘social construct’ and a view of the curriculum as the transmission of knowledge had been a tool of oppression under apartheid and had to be overthrown like the  laws preventing blacks marrying whites.  So they created, with some help from naïve well-wishers from Europe, Australia and NZ  like myself,  a broad framework of values for a racially ‘integrated’ education system  and left the teachers in Black schools  free from what had oppressed them under apartheid – a highly specified top down curriculum.

    But of course the teachers did not know what to do with the freedom- most Black teachers had received barely any post school education and the only experience they had was of following instructions from white administrators; it was hardly surprising that the schools slid into chaos that they are still 20 years later, struggling to overcome. In this context, it gradually dawned on me that there is far more to emancipation than a combination of a critique of the past, experience and democratic values- important though they all are. Education is a specialized activity, like medicine and law, and what was needed was knowledge of curricula and pedagogy and knowledgeable teachers- even if as in South  Africa, some of that knowledge was associated with the hated apartheid system. When I got back to England I had to face a series of academic critiques of my earlier work, and started re-reading Durkheim, Bernstein  and Vygotsky. It was out of this reading and my South African experience, that I inverted the terms power and knowledge-if the original concept  ‘knowledge of the powerful’ became the new concept of ‘powerful knowledge’ we might have the basis for asking a  set of questions about what a curriculum that took seriously  the idea of ‘entitlement for all’What is powerful knowledge?

    The idea of ‘powerful knowledge’ starts by making two assumptions. (i) that there is ‘better  knowledge’ in every field, and (ii) that at the root of all decisions about knowledge in the curriculum is the idea of differentiation; that there are different types of knowledge. For any thinking about the curriculum, the most basic distinction is between school or curriculum knowledge and the everyday knowledge or experience  that pupils bring to school. It is not that one is ‘good’ and the other is ‘bad’. It is that they have different structures and  different purposes.   Curriculum (or subject)  knowledge is context independent unlike the knowledge based on experience that pupils bring to school and is tied  to the contexts in which people live and in which it is acquired.  It follows that the task of the teacher in drawing on the national curriculum is to enable the pupil to engage with the curriculum and move beyond her/his experience. That is why it is so important for teachers to understand the difference between curriculum and pedagogy. The curriculum is a resource for charting the teacher’s  and the school’s and a country’s  goals- what is valued that it is important that all pupils have access to. In contrast, pedagogy refers to how the teacher engages with the prior experiences of pupils and  enables them to have  access the concepts of the curriculum. Through their involvement in pedagogy as learners,    pupils  come to  see their  experience in new ways; this may involve reading a poem or doing a chemistry experiment- the teacher’s goals has always to be that the student has grasped the idea or the concept and can use it in any appropriate new context.

    6. Powerful knowledge is specialized knowledge

    It is knowledge that draws on the work of communities of specialists that we describe as disciplines which  are primarily forms of social organization for producing new knowledge. In this country as in others, disciplinary  specialists have worked with school teachers who have themselves studied one or more discipline and in their preparation to be teachers become subject specialists. They draw on their knowledge of how children learn and of the capacities of pupils levels to create school subjects which set out the possibilities for students to progress in their learning. This process was described by the sociologist Basil Bernstein as re-contextualisation- taking knowledge out of a disciplinary context and setting it in a new context of a school subject. Specialist forms of knowledge differ in  their structure, the powers that they give access to, and the aspects of the world they relate to. Obvious distinctions are between the sciences, the social sciences, the humanities. Each are the basis of core subjects in the school curriculum.

    The two most debated aspects of the concept of ‘powerful knowledge’ are power and concepts. Power  is so easily interpreted as ‘power over’ and often as in politics at any level, power over others. However different subjects offer the student different kinds of power. For example the the sciences generate the power of abstraction and generalization; the social sciences provide institutions behave. The humanities do not provide the  bases for generalization but they can show, in examples of great plays, films and books, how the particular, a character for example in a great play or story can represent something about humanity in general.


    To conclude and I hope, to make the idea of powerful knowledge more concrete I want to read you something written by a Headteacher of a comprehensive school I met at a conference. It arose out of her reading my book    Bringing Knowledge Back In (Young 2008)  and says many things about schools and the curriculum far better than I can.   It  has led to a book four of us have written together which   we hope will be read and found useful by teachers, especially head teachers. KNOWLEDGE AND THE FUTURE SCHOOL; CURRICULUM AND SOCIAL JUSTICE. It  will be published by Bloomsbury later this year. So I hope you will look out for it.


    Full description for Knowledge and the Future School

    Written at a time of uncertainty about the implications of the English government's curriculum policies, Knowledge and the Future School engages with the debate between the government and large sections of the educational community. It provides a forward-looking framework for head teachers, their staff and those training teachers to use when developing the curriculum of individual schools in the context of a national curriculum. While explaining recent ideas in the sociology of educational knowledge, the authors draw on Michael Young's earlier research with Johan Muller to distinguish three models of the curriculum in terms of their assumptions about knowledge, referred to in this book as Future 1, Future 2 and Future 3. They link Future 3 to the idea of 'powerful knowledge' for all pupils as a curriculum principle for any school, arguing that the question of knowledge is intimately linked to the issue of social justice and that access to 'powerful knowledge' is a necessary component of the education of all pupils. Knowledge and the Future School offers a new way of thinking about the problems that head teachers, their staff and curriculum designers face. In charting a course for schools that goes beyond current debates, it also provides a perspective that policy makers should not avoid.

    Table Of Contents

    Preface: Why should you read this book? Martin Roberts (The Prince’s Teaching Institute, UK) and Carolyn Roberts (Thomas Tallis School, UK)

    Introduction, Michael Young (Institute of Education, UK) and David Lambert (Institute of Education, UK), Carolyn Roberts (Prince's Teaching Trust, UK) and Martin Roberts (The Prince’s Teaching Institute, UK)

    1. Knowledge, curriculum and the future school, Michael Young (Institute of Education, UK)

    2. Why curriculum? Michael Young (Institute of Education, UK)

    3. Powerful Knowledge as a curriculum principle, Michael Young (Institute of Education, UK)

    4. The progressive case for a subject-based curriculum Michael Young (Institute of Education, UK)

    5. Curriculum change and control: a Headteacher's perspective, Martin Roberts (The Prince’s Teaching Institute, UK)

    6. Curriculum leadership and the knowledge-led school, Carolyn Roberts (Thomas Tallis School, UK)

    6. Subject teachers in knowledge-led schools, David Lambert (Institute of Education, UK)

    7. Afterword, Michael Young (Institute of Education, UK), David Lambert (Institute of Education, UK), Carolyn Roberts (Thomas Tallis School, UK) and Martin Roberts (The Prince’s Teaching Institute, UK)


    “Rather than simply critiquing recent educational reforms, the authors of this book offer school leaders and teachers a clear and practicable way of thinking about knowledge and the curriculum. This way of thinking affirmatively links pupils' entitlement to knowledge with social justice through the development of knowledge-led schools and curricula. After nearly three decades of reform aimed at de-professionalizing educators, this book ultimately makes an urgent and persuasive case for their re-professionalization in the name of providing pupils with more equitable access to powerful knowledge.” –   Brian D. Barrett, Associate Professor, Foundations and Social Advocacy Department, The State University of New York College at Cortland, USA

    “I thoroughly recommend this book. It is carefully argued, thought-provoking and timely. Surely we can now move away from the often sterile and simplistic debates, “knowledge versus skills”. Knowledge and the Future School presents us with a tantalizing alternative that will allow us to embrace the goal of widening access to ‘powerful knowledge’ through teaching framed by subjects, while at the same time celebrating the diverse experiences of students.” –   Dame Celia Hoyles, Professor of Mathematics Education, Institute of Education, University of London, UK

    “This book raises important questions about the place of knowledge in education and society. Whether you agree with all the answers or not, any serious minded educator or researcher with an interest in social justice, should pay careful attention to the arguments that Young and his collaborators are making.” –   Keri Facer, Professor of Educational and Social Futures, University of Bristol, UK

    “You don’t need to agree with every argument in this highly engaging book to appreciate the importance of its challenges. Let’s think about what schools are actually for. Let’s stop seeing their important work only in terms of data, targets, what can be measured. Here are some serious (but far from dull) arguments about knowledge and the work of schools. This book cuts across the usual political debates and point-scoring. It is a model of how to write well for an audience that should include teachers and head teachers, parents, the public – and politicians.” –   Lyn Yates, Foundation Professor of Curriculum, University of Melbourne, Australia

    “This is the book that many secondary school heads of department, frustrated by a focus on the pedagogic ‘how?’ at the expense of the disciplinary ‘what?’, have long been wanting their senior leaders to read. The authors’ message is bold and its implication clear: disciplinary knowledge and curriculum thinking must become nothing less than the central concern of leadership, the essence of staff development and the driver of whole-school debate.” –   Christine Counsell, Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge, UK

    “Knowledge and the Future School is an intelligent and courageous book that takes the reader to the very heart of what a good education in our schools should be. The authors have adeptly argued the case for a subject-led curriculum that not only enlightens, stretches and challenges the pupil but also brings joy in learning and teaching. Here teachers are given back the freedom to be 'sage' and 'guide' in their classroom as they reflect how best to enthuse a deep understanding of their subject. This approach puts the teacher as the academic professional in the classroom who not only helps his students to develop higher order thinking skills through the discipline of his subject but also gives permission for the teacher to deepen his own knowledge and understanding by working and learning with other professionals from school and universities within his discipline.

    The clarity of the message of this book cannot be mistaken. All children no matter their class or level of deprivation have a legitimate entitlement to powerful knowledge that is found in a subject led curriculum. This book is not about a traditional curriculum of the past which is rigid and requires just rote learning. Nor does it allow inequalities where pupils with less means are 'fobbed off' with a third class curriculum based on pupils' own experience giving them no real choices for their future. This book sets a demanding environment of a subject based curriculum that is not afraid to state knowledge is power led by a reflective practitioner who invests in both his pupils and his own understanding of the subject.

    This is a most liberating book that leaders in education, politicians and head teachers ignore at their children's peril.


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