Tuesday, 29 May 2018

The consensus for constructivism

"Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellence might not, at first sight, appear to be controversial. An outsider might notice the remarkable consensus that has accompanied its development at the heart of policy for school education. The report which launched it in 2004 is still endorsed by all five political parties in the Scottish Parliament..."

"The consensus extends also to every vested interest in Scottish education. The teacher trade unions have signed up to it so enthusiastically that they have been represented on its management board. The local authorities, responsible for managing public-sector schools, offered no dissent. The universities officially accepted the ideas uncritically, with their teacher-education faculties notably enthusiastic. Even critically supportive assessments were very unusual (but see that from Professor Mark Priestley)."

"Yet the curriculum has recently been the centre of widespread disquiet. The arguments are of a uniquely Scottish kind because they pit the entire leadership class in policy against maverick outsiders. So these critiques are partly invisible. But they reflect a sense that a once-admired education system is now mediocre..."

"But the reason why the new curriculum is a plausible culprit for the decline lies in what it gets children to learn. It belongs to that strand of curricular thinking sometimes known as constructivism. The essence of this view is that studying bodies of knowledge is pedagogically ineffective. Knowledge goes quickly out of date, and learning it is dull. Children emerge allegedly unable to think for themselves, unskilled for work in the new economy, and unprepared to act as democratic citizens. Instead, children should be enabled to construct knowledge for themselves."

"The defenders of the curriculum deny that knowledge is being neglected, but the survey results and the details of the voluminous curricular documents belie that..."

"The argument against Curriculum for Excellence is ... that subject disciplines are not merely arbitrary. They are the refinement of knowledge that has been gradually built up over centuries. In relation to that knowledge, each new generation of children are no more than humble apprentices. Knowledge can therefore be emancipating, and knowledge acquired through schools provides that opportunity to people who would not get it from home. If schools stop teaching structured knowledge, then inequality of access to knowledge will widen, because the children of the well-educated and the wealthy will get it in other ways..."

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