Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Knowledge vs skills

I don't want to say too much about the debate currently going on in England about education, partly because it doesn't apply to me and also because I'm increasingly of the view that one would be more likely to get a balanced and reasoned discussion if you were to raise some of the thornier issues relating to the Middle East, such is the apparent English disposition to identify enemies over this matter.  Just one narrow point, which has to do with the suggestion that history should be taught in chronological order.

This relates to the broader issue raised by the title of this post.  I can't see why anyone would think arranging the curriculum like this would be a good idea.  Gove likes to cite the support of various 'eminent historians', by which he means famous ones.  Some of them I like, others less so - but I'm wondering why their opinion is being sought in the first place?  What do any of them know about teaching history to children?  Why does David Starkey give his approval to a mode of teaching that would mean his pet subject would never be taught to senior pupils?  Do Beevor and Ferguson really think it is better to teach the causes of the Great War before those behind WWII to younger pupils for the sole reason they happened first?  Because surely no-one could disagree about which was more complicated?

It doesn't make any sense.  The distinction that is currently being made between 'skills' and 'knowledge' is entirely phoney, so I really wish people would stop this.  Putting historical events in their correct chronological order is, to use that word which causes traditionalists to recoil in horror, a skill.  It is not particularly difficult but nevertheless one that is impossible to manage unless you have knowledge, specifically knowledge about when stuff happened.  If there is evidence that students are unable to do this which has not been gathered from unrepresentative surveys from hotel chains, I would agree that this is a cause for concern - but I would take issue with the notion that it is any kind of remedy that they should have this done for them.

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