I was going to start talking about what we're doing to in preparation for our new curriculum in September, but I had an interesting experience this week which I'd like to explore.
I was invited into a school earlier this week to talk to the staff about PBL and the proposed curriculum changes we are going to make at my school. I only had 30 mins including questions so it was difficult to really get the rationale across. People often want to skip the philosophy and rationale and go straight to the systems and structure. Anyway, at the end I was given a real dressing down by a Geography teacher who accused me of dumbing down Geography and the rest of the curriculum. He went on to tell me that he had a Geography degree, his teachers qualification was to teach Geography and that he had taught Geography for X years.
This raises a number of points:
- This is a different world to the one we knew and loved 20 years ago, in fact 5 Years ago for that matter. Alvin Toffler wrote about Future Shock back in the sixties (I think), warning that our minds would wake up one day and suddenly realise that they're not coping with the rapid changes the world is going through. In the last 5 - 7 years the world has changed beyond recognition and yet on a day to day basis most of us (including myself) don't notice it (do we subconsciously choose to ignore it or are our past interpretations of the worlds too ingrained in our psyche? Have you read "The World is Flat" by T L Friedman? Or have you watched "Shift Happens" (You'll find it on You Tube). After reading or watching these you'll be in no doubt that we have to radically change schools. It's often quoted that unlike every other organisation or institution, schools have remained largely unchanged in the last 50 - 100 years. As educators we are ignoring our duty to prepare young people to flourish in society. Teaching discrete subjects and focusing on the acquisition of subject knowledge is more or less irrelevant and pointless in an information driven, plugged in society. And much as I applaud the moves QCA (British Government qualifications body responsible for the National Curriculum) is trying to make in reducing the National Curriculum and introducing requirements to develop certain skills in young people, it is no where near enough.
- The Geography teacher is a victim of our inability to move forward as a profession. I tried to explain to the teacher that our professionalism should come from our understanding and application of pedagogical theory, not in how much of an expert he is in the field of Geography. If I wanted to employ experts, I'd employ a nuclear physicist rather than a Science teacher. Why aren't the teacher training organisations and the General Teaching Council drumming this into all of us and all the trainee teachers?? That change in emphasis (subtle as it is) would have massive and beneficial effects on the teaching profession. Unfortunately almost every newly qualified teacher I interview wants to talk about their subject expertise and their ability to teach at higher levels rather. Obviously Primary teachers don't have the same problem or at least not as much. My daughter who is in Year 6 has had English Maths and Science rammed down her throat at her school for the past twelve months in preparation for her SATs in a couple of months. She has separate Maths, English and Science teachers. (Stop me from going down this path - I'll have a rant about that in another post). Teachers should have a subject area of expertise; it is important that we are able to pass on the richness in our world as accurately as research tells us. There are times when we can and should become an extra "learning tool" for our students, but in todays world where information is the main currency, it is vital that we become facilitators of learning primarily. (I don't think I've said that strongly enough!)
- Finally, I certainly don't think I can be accused of dumbing down the curriculum. Realigning it maybe, but certainly not making it any less rich. The curriculum we intend to introduce will still have high expectations and will certainly produce high attainers. And as for Geography - well find me a project that doesn't require some geographical understanding.
The school I visited are making real moves to change their curriculum. The majority want the change, I wish them all the best in driving forward. It's certainly out of the comfort zone and a lot don't like that, but it will be worth it in the end - I'm sure of it.