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    05-10-2015
    Klik hier om een link te hebben waarmee u dit artikel later terug kunt lezen.Rolvakdisciplines (als cultuurproducten) vij samenstelling curriculum

    Over belang van vakdisciplines (als cultuurproducten) bij samenstelling curriculum + centrale rol van basiskennis

    Curriculum Theory,Educational Traditionalism and the Academic Disciplines: Reviving the Liberal Philosophy of Education

    Michael Fordham (in: Knowledge and the Curriculum A collection of essays to accompany E. D. Hirsch’s lecture at Policy Exchange, 2015)

    Vooraf: basisidee: Fordham wijst op het grote belang van de vakdisciplines bij de opstelling van eindtermen en leerplannen. Dat lijkt ons een belangrijk en correct standpunt, des te meer omdat er in Vlaanderen stemmen opgaan om bij de opstelling van de nieuwe eindtermen en leerplannen afstand te nemen van de indeling in vakdisciplines en van de inhoud van de vakdisciplines. Een tweede en hiermee verbonden centrale idee luidt: …”Knowledge thus must be at the centre of the curriculum… the pursuit of truth should be a normative goal of curriculum, but tempered by an awareness of the fallibility of our knowledge and the need to revise it in light of new evidence.”

     

    “What Hirsch and other traditionalists show us is that the contrary is the case: it is by immersing ourselves in prior traditions – of which the academic disciplines represent the best means available to use for studying the natural and social world we share – that we are able to enter into meaningful conversations about those traditions and how they might be extended in the future. Education in the academic disciplines is liberating in that it sets us free, but it does so not by getting us to stand empty-headed on an Archimedean point from which we might challenge dominant narratives, but rather by climbing inside the traditions of the past, and thus entering into the great conversations of mankind. A secondary school curriculum that does not focus on academic knowledge does not prepare children for these conversations and this is why, contrary to the progressive line of argument, it is traditionalism that can claim the moral high ground in preparing children for citizenship in a democratic society.”

     

    Bijdrage

     

    E. D. Hirsch’s philosophy of education is self-avowedly traditional. In Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know (Hirsch, 1988) he argued that “to learn a culture is natural to human beings. Children can express individuality only in relation to the traditions of their society, which they have to learn. The great human individuality is developed in response to a tradition, not in response to disorderly, uncertain, and fragmented education.” These three sentences constitute a response to one of the principal arguments levelled at Hirsch’s theory of curriculum, namely that an emphasis on ‘extensive’ cultural knowledge is a form of indoctrination that prevents pupils from developing the individuality, creativity and criticality that are taken as virtues in modern liberal democratic societies.

    Hirsch’s response is that these very virtues are best kindled in pupils through explicit encounters with extant cultural traditions. A thorough defence of Hirsch’s thesis requires, therefore, that these traditions can be shown to be in keeping with the liberal aims of modern society, and that these traditions are not simply fossilizations of past social power.

    Hirsch sits squarely in the liberal tradition of education philosophy which stresses the liberating power of knowledge over ignorance. It is much to our shame in the United Kingdom that our own liberal philosophers of education – including Matthew Arnold and R.S. Peters – are rarely studied as part of teacher education. In recent years, however, this idea – that knowledge is liberating – has received a great deal more attention in the UK, and this is not least because Hirsch’s ideas have both attracted political commentary and proved formative in the curricular and pedagogical theorizing of a (predominantly) young generation of teachers who have great sought to advance a ‘knowledge-rich’ curriculum (Kirby, 2015).2

    This trend in contemporary educational thought has sought to identify existing assumptions that have proved harmful to education, and to point towards the flaws in these ideas (Christodoulou,

    2014).3 What is most notable about this trend is that its advocates have adopted educational traditionalism and directed this against educational elitism: the traditionalists have, in short, stolen a march on the progressives and planted their banner firmly on the moral high ground with the clarion call that knowledge is emancipator and that a knowledge-based curriculum is a matter of social justice. It is no wonder that the those who associate traditionalism with

    elitism, and which sees challenging the former as a means of overcoming the latter, have responded so negatively and defensively to a trend with which they share much in terms of their final goals. Part of this disagreement stems from the fact that traditionalists have not always been sufficiently explicit in distinguishing their position from elitists, and it is here that a more explicit emphasis on academic disciplines can help. A common response from those who reject educational traditionalism is that teaching children knowledge is an attempt to make children from diverse backgrounds conform to a white, middle-class, male culture (Kidd, 2014).4 The purportedly ‘critical’ argument, in contrast to the traditionalist position, is that education exists not to induct children into existing traditions, but rather to equip them with the skills they need in order to uncover the power relations that rest behind those traditions. This does, however, make the mistake of assuming that children can be given some kind of Archimedean Point from which they can make a critique of culture. As Hirsch shows us, the level of prior knowledge needed to make sense of a newspaper article – or indeed a political speech, advertisement for medical treatment or website advocating Holocaust denial – is extensive.

     

    Indeed, as Alasdair MacIntyre put it, only an educated public is sufficiently well-placed to advance a critique of the claims to knowledge that they frequently encounter in society.

    For MacIntyre “An educated public is constituted by educated generalists, people who can

    situate themselves in relation to society and to nature, because they know enough astronomy, enough geology, enough history, enough economics, and enough philosophy and theology to do so. What is ‘enough’? a specialist in that particular discipline needs to know and what non-specialists need to understand if they are to be aware of the relevance of the findings of that discipline to their individual and collective decision making” (MacIntyre, 2002).5

    For MacIntyre, his definition of ‘enough’ is pitched at a not dissimilar level of Hirsch’s list at the end of Cultural Literacy.

     

    MacIntyre argued that …there are some things that every child should be taught. What do

    these include? Mathematics up to and including the differential calculus, English language and English literature including… some [stories] … translated from other languages … but also including at least one Icelandic saga, some Chaucer, and some Shakespeare, at least one other

    language, and a good deal of history. MacIntyre has arguably done more than any other contemporary philosopher – perhaps save Gadamer (Gadamer, 1960) – to rescue the concept of ‘tradition’ from its Enlightenment graveyard. At the heart of all of his argument is a notion of ‘tradition’: education involves entering into a tradition which requires first mastering the basics before going on to extend that tradition in potentially new directions. The idea that the academic disciplines ought to be at the heart of the school curriculum is not new, with a strong emphasis on these in nineteenth-century educational reform. A new generation of philosophers continued in the mid-twentieth century to advance an essentially liberal argument for a school curriculum based on academic disciplines. In the USA, for example, Phenix argued that “The essential task of education is to foster growth of real understanding. There is no end of opinions that can be learned. There are also many skills that can be acquired. The educator’s function is to direct the student towards authoritative knowledge rather than towards lower forms of learning. Such knowledge is found within the disciplines. Hence, it is to the disciplines that the teacher should turn for the content of instruction (Phenix, 1964).

     

    The latter part of the twentieth century saw a significant backlash against the liberal justification for the place of academic disciplines in the school curriculum. The onslaught came from multiple fronts. On the one hand, sociologists inspired by critical theory and, later, postmodernism called out the power structures inherent in the academic disciplines. On the other hand, academic

    disciplines increasingly came to be seen in pragmatic terms. The employability focus in the school curriculum around the turn of the century treated academic disciplines as, at best, the arenas in which ‘transferable’ skills might be developed. Mathematics thus became numeracy; English literature gave way to literacy; the humanities became subjects in which to learn the skills of debate or citizenship. In this context the disciplines were less the fundamental forms of knowledge, but rather archaic structures that created unnecessary boundaries in the curriculum. It was not surprising, therefore, that the early twenty-first century saw the rise of a number of curriculum proposals that did away with disciplines completely. The Royal Society of Arts’ Opening Minds curriculum, for example, based its model on generic competences such as ‘citizenship’, managing information’ and ‘managing people’. (RSA, 2015). Criticism of such curriculum models was usually labeled as traditionalist, right-wing, elitist and nostalgic.

    It was, perhaps ironically, the sociology of education that rescued the academic disciplines from charges of irrelevance and elitism.

     

    In recent years a significant new strand in the sociology of education – under the banner of ‘social realism’ – has developed with advocates n Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the UK (Young, 2008).7 Such sociologists argued that academic disciplines provided the only route by which human collective knowledge of reality might grow and that the specialised knowledge in the disciplines represented the current, most advanced account of knowledge of reality. Access to those disciplines, the argument runs, provides pupils with a way of distinguishing between their everyday knowledge – which is context-bound – to ‘powerful’ knowledge, which is generalisable beyond particular contexts. As Wheelahan put it “…access to theoretical knowledge equips students to be part of society’s conversation, and to shape their field of practice by questioning and critiquing the knowledge base of practice and the relationship between knowledge and practice. Knowledge thus must be at the centre of the curriculum… the pursuit of truth should be a normative goal of curriculum, but tempered by an awareness of the fallibility of our knowledge and the need to revise it in light of new evidence.(Wheelehan, 2012)”

     

    The result of this argument is to reach the same conclusions as the liberal philosophers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, that the academic disciplines ought to be at the heart of the

    school curriculum. The route by which that conclusion is reached, however, reflects a late-twentieth- and early-twenty-first-century concern for social epistemology that places an emphasis on the growth of knowledge over time, the fallibility of claims to knowledge

    and the fact that members of each discipline continue to work to extend the frontiers of knowledge in their respective fields. It should be made clear at this point that learning an academic discipline is not the same as being a researcher, and problems have emerged when it has been assumed that the epistemology of the discipline is the same as the pedagogy of the subject (Kirschner, Sweller ad Clark, 2006).

     

     Placing an emphasis on academic disciplines does not mean that pupils need to learn their historical knowledge through the study of contemporary sources, nor that they need to learn the laws of physics through experiments. It is the case, however, that in studying academic disciplines, it is not sufficient to learn the substantive knowledge that these disciplines have given us; there is also some need to study the ways in which and reasons why disagreements have developed within the disciplines. In history, for example, an ‘extensive’ curriculum might well address broad chronological frameworks and sweeping narratives, without a great deal of associated critique. The ‘intensive’ curriculum, however, is easily able to take particular controversies in the academic discipline of history and to show where fault lines have developed, where dispute has emerged and what the grounds are for disagreement. The mistake made in history education over the last forty years has perhaps been to dress up this study of interpretation as a question of developing historical ‘skills’ or ‘competences’. A more fruitful approach, however, is to take these controversies and to turn them into objects of study, so that pupils might be required to gain knowledge of, for example, the ‘Whig’ interpretation of the rise of Parliamentary supremacy in the UK, or the ‘Marxist’ interpretation of the transition from feudal to industrial society in western Europe. In each case it possible to show pupils the kinds of claims made in these interpretations and where these claims might be faulted. It is fully in keeping with a traditional approach to the curriculum to introduce pupils to the major lines of debate that have emerged within each particular discipline, alongside an ‘extensive’ curriculum that provides the wider framework and reference points that makes those studies of dispute within the academic disciplines meaningful. The challenge of the curriculum designer is to construct a curriculum that achieves both. Such a line of argument carries with it a particular set of implications for curriculum theory. It is necessary, first, to ensure that extensive knowledge is structured in a curriculum in such a way that, by the time they finish their schooling, pupils have the kinds of cultural reference points that Hirsch argues for in Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know. Such a list will inevitable be a matter of dispute and indeed will vary a little from place to place: Hirsch’s own list in Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know, for example, would not quite be right for a British curriculum or an Australian curriculum. With the natural sciences, however, one would probably not quibble with the list outlined by Hirsch. At the same time, we should take opportunities where they arise to teach pupils knowledge about how disciplines produce knowledge. In the natural sciences, for example, a generally educated public needs to have knowledge of concepts such as ‘statistical significance’ or ‘controlled experiment’: these ideas are an important part of their cultural inheritance. Similarly, a pupil who leaves school having encountered ideas such as ‘liberalism’ and ‘Marxism’, and how these ideas led historians to interpret the past in different ways, is well-placed to enter into educated discussions about the nature of our knowledge and how it is developing over time. In this sense there is much to be said for incorporating the history of the academic disciplines into the school curriculum, for it is knowledge of this that will help an educated public situate claims  to knowledge in the present in the context of that which has gone before. In these ways both substantive knowledge (i.e. knowledge of reality) and disciplinary knowledge (knowledge of how disciplines create substantive knowledge) are important to an educated public: the mistake in the past has been to assume that substantive knowledge is unimportant, and that disciplinary knowledge is a matter of learning the ‘skills’ of the scientist or the historian. It is, I would suggest, a fear of tradition that drives the thrust of Hirsch’s critics. The argument is that knowledge is value-laden and dangerous and that any attempt to teach knowledge to pupils is indoctrination.

     

    What Hirsch and other traditionalists show us is that the contrary is the case: it is by immersing ourselves in prior traditions – of which the academic disciplines represent the best means available to use for studying the natural and social world we share – that we are able to enter into meaningful conversations about those traditions and how they might be extended in the future. Education in the academic disciplines is liberating in that it sets us free, but it does so not by getting us to stand empty-headed on an Archimedean point from which we might challenge dominant narratives, but rather by climbing inside the traditions of the past, and thus entering into the great conversations of mankind. A secondary school curriculum that does not focus on academic knowledge does not prepare children for these conversations and this is why, contrary to the progressive line of argument, it is traditionalism that can claim the moral high ground in preparing children for citizenship in a democratic society.

     

    References

     

    Christodoulou, D (2014), Seven Myths About Education,

    (London).

    Gademer, HG, (1960) “Truth and method” (Continuum; New Ed

    edition

    Kidd, D (2015), ‘Hey you. Poor Person. We’re here to make you

    just like us’, https://debrakidd.wordpress.com/2015/01/11/

    hey-you-poor-person-were-here-to-make-you-just-like-us

    Kirby, J (2015), ‘The signal and the noise: the Blogosphere in

    2014’, https://pragmaticreform.wordpress.com/2015/01/02/

    the-signal-the-noise-the-blogosphere-in-2014

    Kirschner, P, Sweller J and Clark, R (2006), ‘Why Minimal

    Guidance During Instruction Does Not Work: An Analysis

    of the Failure of Constructivist, Discovery, Problem-Based,

    Experiential, and Inquiry-Based Teaching’, Educational

    Psychologist, 41(2), 75–86.

    MacIntyre A & Dunne, J (2002) ‘Alasdair MacIntyre on

    Education: in dialogue with Joseph Dunne’, Journal of

    Philosophy of Education.

    Phenix, P, (1964), Realms of Meaning: a Philosophy of the

    Curriculum for General Education (New York).

    RSA (2015), What is RSA Opening Minds?

    www.rsaopeningminds.org.uk/about-rsa-openingminds

    Wheelehan, L, (2012) “Why knowledge matters in curriculum:

    a social realist argument” (London, Routledge).

    Young, M (2008) Bringing Knowledge Back In, (London).




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