Curriculum for Ignorance?

Tomorrow I’m visiting my new school for a meeting with the person who’ll mentor me through my NQT year, which starts in August. This should be an exciting time as I prepare to start my first job of a career which I’d hope to commit a serious amount of time, effort and passion to over the next however many years. In spite of this, I’m currently debating with myself whether I should share with my mentor the fact that I have serious doubts over the likelihood of me completing the year. This doubt isn’t based on the fact that I find teaching difficult – I find it incredibly difficult, but so far I’ve enjoyed that challenge and I’ve managed to deal with it pretty well – but because during my PGDE year I’ve become increasingly disillusioned with the Scottish Curriculum for Excellence to the extent that I’m not sure whether I can put myself through another year of guaranteed frustration.

My issues with CfE include :

1.  Confusing, vague and meaningless Experiences and Outcomes.

2.  A focus on skills over knowledge.

3.  Hero worship of John Dewey.

4.  Insistence on progressive, child centred teaching methods.

Funnily enough a year ago, before starting teacher training, I’d have completely agreed with numbers 2-4 (probably that’s what what gained me my place on the course). So what changed? Well, as much as I hate to blow my own bugle, I’ve done some reading.  A lot of reading.  Over the last twelve months I’ve read a ridiculously huge number of blogs, research articles, books and essays on the topic of education, to the point where it’s been in danger of taking over my life (just ask my girlfriend). As a result my definition of what makes good teaching has changed significantly.

There’s loads I’ve learnt during my PGDE, and I’m bursting to put it into practice. But the vast majority of what I’ve learnt hasn’t been taught to me by the university, but I’ve learnt through reading books and communicating with experienced teachers online.  It remains to be seen whether I’ll be given the freedom to teach in the way I see best for my pupils, or whether I’ll be forced to comply with a system I don’t believe in.

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7 thoughts on “Curriculum for Ignorance?

  1. Hi there
    Any chance you could elaborate on exactly what your issues with the above points are? Good to debate and all that but unless you state why these are objectionable – and at least two are, in my opinion, mistaken- then it is difficult to respond.
    Thanks
    Kenny

  2. Hi there Kenny. Thanks for taking the time to respond – I’ve read a lot of your blogs over the last year. I do hope to expand more in future posts. In the mean time, would you care to mention which two you think are mistaken?

  3. Like Kenny, I would rather you had expanded a little on your reasons behind that list, but I suspect that a few assumptions can be made to allow me to offer some sort of response (although please feel free to correct any that are wide of the mark).

    1. You are absolutely correct, and I’d would dearly love to see the next stage in the evolution of CfE deal with this issue. The Es & Os are unnecessarily complex, terribly vague, and ultimately counter-productive.

    2. I suspect I can probably guess whose blogs you have been reading to arrive at this conclusion so early, but in all honest the battle between skills and knowledge is a false dichotomy. As an English teacher, the example I often use is as follows: in order for a student to advance in my class, I need them to understand what a metaphor is (knowledge); however, this knowledge alone is of no value whatsoever, and it is only when it can be used to allow to student to analyse, evaluate and comment upon texts (skills) that it becomes useful. Look at it another way – if a student of yours leaves school and goes on to do an English degree, will being able to recite a poem off by heart, or list a series of prepositions, do them any good? Of course not. Will the ability to independently engage with the literature and theories put in front of them be of use? Absolutely. The knowledge that serves as the foundation of these skills is obviously important, but knowledge for the sake of knowledge is the route to lazy teaching.

    3. Many of Dewey’s ideas (including his belief that schools can act as a medium for social reform) are fundamental to our education system, but the notion that he is ‘hero-worshipped’ is mistaken. Also, I note in your other posts your belief that we should be following Hirsch’s ‘Core Knowledge’ philosophy (also mistaken, in my opinion) but hero-worship is a far more accurate description of the way in which he is viewed across much of the education sector (again, mostly in England).

    4. This one depends upon the school in which you work and the staff around you, but I have never at any point been forced (or even pressured) to teach in a manner which I don’t like. I – perhaps like you – don’t have much time for a lot of what would be considered ‘modern teaching techniques’ (ie. building board games for revision) but that is simply because they don’t do it for me, and if they work for others (and, crucially, their students, then fine). Once again, I suspect the debate in England over Ofsted’s ‘preferred teaching style’ has influenced your thoughts here, but I’ve never encountered this sort of thing.

  4. Thanks again for taking the time to reply.

    1. Let’s hope so!

    2. I agree that English is a mix of skills and knowledge, but I disagree that knowing poems and prepositions by heart won’t do students any good.

    3. Hero worship was a poor choice of words. I didn’t mean amongst teachers either, more amongst the people who wrote CfE. I used to be a big fan of Dewey but now not so much and will write more soon.

    4. I’ll be happy if you’re right on this one and maybe I have got it out of proportion, influenced by the Ofsted debate in England that you mentioned. It’s also maybe a crit thing. On all of my student observations I felt pressured (always by the school, never by my tutor) to include some gimmicky teaching methods and to use a lot of group work even if the task didn’t particularly need it. It could be that they just wanted to observe my classroom management and willingness to try different things.

    I had also noticed that some CfE materials stress the importance of putting the child in charge of their own education, which sounds good, but I spent time in a school where it literally felt that the kids were in charge. This wasn’t a particularly pleasant environment to work in and I worried that more schools might be moving in that direction.

  5. If you can give me an example of when being able to parrot a poem off by heart is helpful I’ll certainly consider it, but I can’t think of one myself. Regardless, knowledge remains the foundation upon which skills are built, meaning that it is important, but that the crucial thing for students to acquire is the skills (as these are the things they will actually use in the future).

    I wouldn’t worry about your Crit experiences – we all jumped through those hoops but the fade away throughout the NQT year.

    In all seriousness, I would caution against being too influenced by some of the issues and debates in the English system, as the gap between our system and theirs is considerable (and getting wider).

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