Monday, April 13, 2015

K for Knowledge.

There are some weird things that we require our year eleven students to know. Trigonometry and Shakespeare for example. Now don't get me wrong, I actually rather enjoy trigonometry and Shakespeare. However I am wondering what has happened that without questioning it, we prioritise trigonometry, hypotenuses, radians and angles, iambic pentameter and Hamlet's issues, over the well-being of our students?

I have talked before about my concerns over valuing achievement over well-being, however further thinking around this subject has me wondering again.
  • Who has decided what 'knowledge' should be taught in our curriculum? Who decided that we should teach year eleven students trigonometry, or that year thirteen biology should know about Okazaki fragments? Who decided that we should teach algebra to all students?
  • Why were these specific things selected for our young people to know? Why not quantum theory? Why not philosophy? Why did we decide to value these things so much that the entire nation should learn them?
  • Why is it that we appear to value the mind more than the body? A colleague recently joked that he hardly ever gets any responses based on his report comments and grades for students, because nobody cares about PE. How many parents go to parent teacher interviews and ask about the well-being, the fitness and nutrition knowledge of their child? But many ask about literacy and numeracy... What is really more important?
  • How many teachers question the validity of the knowledge that they are imparting? And on the flip side, if they are questioning whether what they are teaching is useful, valid, important, do they actually know? Do science teachers have any understanding of what sets scientific knowledge apart from other knowledge? Other than fair testing that is. 
I know that much of the reasoning that underpins how we prioritise knowledge in our education systems are based on the ideas from Plato, Rousseau, Descartes and others. In fact, the more you read on this subject, the more you realise just how much.

However, there is another model that has been occupying my thoughts lately. I've just started dipping my toes into complexity theory. You can get some more introductions to complexity theory by looking at the videos below. The idea that really caught my eye this evening however was this:
"Care flows naturally if the "self" is widened and deepened so that protection of free Nature is felt and conceived as protection of ourselves" - Arne Naess 
The book explains this quote with "...if we have the deep ecological experience of being part of the web of life, then we will, as opposed to should, be inclined to care for all of living nature"
Quotes from The Systems View of Life. A Unifying Vision
Again, this has me wondering. What if society shifted towards a more holistic view, where we considered ourselves as part of a network and existing as a network? How would the world be different? Particularly, in relation to my questions above, if we considered our body as an interconnected network rather than a separation of mind, spirit, body, would we treat it differently? Would be pay more attention to our health and well-being? Would those over bearing parents shift their focus from not enough maths, not enough reading, to not enough exercise? Would the findings from the ERO report that told of schools prioritising assessment over well-being have been different if this was our view?