Debates about the curriculum often focus on what subjects are taught in schools and in what proportion. February has already seen the demise of vocational qualifications in fish husbandry, equine care, and nail technology and the introduction of courses in ‘failure’ to sit alongside ‘happiness’ and ‘well being’. Such debates about what ‘subjects’ should and shouldn’t be included in the curriculum are often based in personal prejudice with adults trying to compensate retrospectively for deficiencies in their own schooling. There is also an element of horizon gazing with politicians and educationalists trying to identify the subjects most useful for the economy and life (usually in that order).
Whilst the component parts of the school curriculum are important, there is a danger that in arguing about the respective merits of different subjects we are failing to see the wood for the trees. Curriculum detail should not be confused with curriculum culture. Individual subjects are important, but what is more important is a spirit of intellectual curiosity that underpins the curriculum. Children must be encouraged to question, to ask why, and then follow the many and varied academic trails that lead to one answer, many answers, or none. Such intellectual journeys inevitably roam across many subject boundaries, and highlight the artificiality of subject divisions.
Good teachers promote intellectual curiosity and a passion for learning that will be lifelong. Going to school should be the educational equivalent of a visit to the toy store, with children’s eyes lighting up at the prospect of exciting ideas to play with. So this half term you might like to ask your children some of the following:
Who is winning the battle between mankind and bacteria?
Are mass extinctions a good thing?
Do bankers deserve their bonuses?
Are fair trade bananas really fair?
What books are bad for you?
What problems do fish face underwater?
Is there a difference between innocence and naivety?
and what leaves you drier if it is raining, running or walking?
These are some of the questions that I explore in my Wednesday assemblies. Hopefully some of the them resonate with children, and make it back to dinner time conversation at home.