The Ignorance Trilogy

I had never intended to write a trilogy of posts, however things fell into place and while there was a unifying thread it made sense to separate ideas into separate posts rather than produce one of my typically sprawling articles. In many ways, this trilogy draws together much of the reading, thinking and writing that I have done, particularly over the past six months, so I thought it might be helpful to set these latest posts into the context of that previous writing.

Like all good trilogies – Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, The Godfather, Cornetto – there is a theme running through this latest trilogy. Taking Beveridge’s classification of ‘ignorance’ as one of the great social ills, I believe that tackling ignorance should be the main aim of schooling.

In On ignorance, I discuss why ignorance is perhaps the greatest of Beveridge’s ‘five giants’. A problem in its own right, it also contributes the other ills (want, squalor, idleness and disease) and leads to inequality passing from one generation to the next. Tackling ignorance does not mean politicising the curriculum or schools though. Following the liberal-humanist tradition, it is about providing knowledge which gives students choices in life which ignorance would deny them.

The second part, On cultural capital, examines what exactly we mean my cultural capital, sets out why I think it is so important and discusses some of the reasons why we shouldn’t shy away from teaching cultural capital over fears around diversity and representation.

In the final post, On learning (or getting the horse to drink), I offer a cautionary note on how we cannot forget about how learning happens as schools shift their focus to curriculum for the first time in a generation. Instead, by ensuring that teaching and learning reflects what we know about how learning happens, we must ensure that students engage with the knowledge we are offering them in order to actually tackle ignorance.

In a postscript to that third and final post, I offer a couple of more personal reflections about why it is important for teachers to remind themselves of what it is like to be a novice and also my perspective on lacking cultural capital.

The context of the trilogy (or shameless plugs for my previous posts)

This trilogy needs to be seen in the context of my views on curriculum and knowledge. I believe that we do need to teach knowledge in schools – lots of knowledge. It is important though to think about how we consider knowledge. Knowledge is more than just a list of inert facts. Rather, knowledge should be seen as enabling and powerful. Indeed, I subscribe to Professor Michael Young’s concept of ‘powerful knowledge’. I give a brief overview of what powerful knowledge is, together with a discussion of what it might actually look like in practice, in this blog from the beginning of the year. For more on powerful knowledge and what it looks in geography, read Richard Bustin’s book which I review here. To read a practical example of what is meant by powerful knowledge, I wrote a piece about how I understand Coronavirus as a geographer. For an example of how powerful knowledge is put into practice in curriculum planning, read about how I designed a new scheme of work on the geographies of fashion.

I have done a lot of work in my own school to make our curriculum ‘knowledge-rich’ and have found this work has reinvigorated me as a professional. I am however aware that in asking teachers to engage in a qualitatively different way to curriculum, we are asking teachers do so something which many of them have not had to do in a decade. This blog discusses whether teachers want to engage with curriculum in this way. I have also written a note on how we mustn’t confuse curriculum tools, such as knowledge organisers, with curriculum thinking.

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