Manifesto for Curriculum Reform
I’ve been thinking a lot about how the National Curriculum should be reformed, and whether the essential change is possible, because I’ll be going to a consultation group next week about the Government’s review of Cultural Learning (part of this NC review), led by Darren Henley. I expect that Darren Henley will hear many dissenting and passionate voices, articulating the value of creativity, imagination, critical thinking, cultural diversity and risk-taking to ensure that cultural education doesn’t become an inculcation into the icons and traditional practices of Western art. Because many of these views are expressed by people who run schools, I do have some faith that good creative practice will thrive, in those schools. But I wonder how much widespread change is possible, given the end of schemes such as Find Your Talent/Creative Partnerships. I also have concerns that there is not enough visionary thinking about interdisciplinarity, drawing together the humanities and sciences and creative practices in schools, as a mainstream practice. Interdisciplinarity is too much articulated and perceived to be rather vague and experimental, and not helpful in ‘getting results’. The Henley review applies to the school curriculum in England, of course, but there may be some interesting lessons in what is happening globally in universities. In many countries, because of economic pressures, big questions are being asked about the purpose of higher education, perhaps more radically than at primary and secondary level, in terms of how it prepares people for an increasingly problematic world of work and life. University staff tend to do more research than school teachers, looking at the increasing contextual problems of environment, economy and society. They can see perhaps more clearly how education needs to change. There are several networks of academics and educators applying this awareness to manifestos for a new curriculum. Here is one I came across:
- As a central guideline teach disciplines rigorously in introductory courses together with a set of parallel seminars devoted to complex real life problems that transcend disciplinary boundaries.
- Teach knowledge in its social, cultural and political contexts. Teach not just the factual subject matter, but highlight the challenges, open questions and uncertainties of each discipline.
- Create awareness of the great problems humanity is facing (hunger, poverty, public health, sustainability, climate change, water resources, security, etc.) and show that no single discipline can adequately address any of them.
- Use these challenges to demonstrate and rigorously practice interdisciplinarity, avoiding the dangers of interdisciplinary dilettantism.
- Treat knowledge historically and examine critically how it is generated, acquired, and used. Emphasize that different cultures have their own traditions and different ways of knowing. Do not treat knowledge as static and embedded in a fixed canon.
- Provide all students with a fundamental understanding of the basics of the natural and the social sciences, as well as the humanities. Emphasize and illustrate the connections between these traditions of knowledge.
- Engage with the world’s complexity and messiness. This applies to the sciences as much as to the social, political and cultural dimensions of the world. Such an engagement will contribute to the education of concerned citizens.
- Emphasize a broad and inclusive evolutionary mode of thinking in all areas of the curriculum.
- Familiarize students with non-linear phenomena in all areas of knowledge.
- Fuse theory and analytic rigor with practice and the application of knowledge to real-world problems.
- Rethink the implications of modern communication and information technologies for education and the architecture of the university.
How could this kind of thinking be applied to a reform of a school-based curriculum?