The Scottish Government’s (2008) Building the Curriculum 3: A Framework for Teaching and Learning clarifies the policy support there is currently for interdisciplinary and holistic learning approaches as a beneficial method for enhancing learners’ experiences. Furthermore, a recent Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)(2015, p. 9) report on improving schools in Scotland, highlighted that Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) ‘is an important reform to put in place a coherent 3-18 curriculum … (as it) … privileges learning and holistic understanding of what it means to be a young Scot growing up in today’s world.’ The current time is therefore considered as a ‘watershed’ moment (OECD, p. 100) for CfE, as policy has moved from a broad set of aspirations in 2010-2011 to a time when the five-year programme implementation process is nearing completion. Furthermore, as Bryce and Humes (2013, p. 51) note, the uniformity of comprehensive provision can be viewed as an expression of Scottish unity and identity ‘as a reflection of democracy and communal solidarity and … demonstration that opportunities to succeed should be available to all.’
In moving forward, this paper critiques interdisciplinary learning from a predominantly Deweyan perspective, as whether stated explicitly or otherwise, many of the progressivist-based attempts to modernise curriculum
are underpinned by Deweyan conceptions of: the child and the curriculum (Dewey, 1902); interest and effort in education (Dewey, 1913); learners’ wider
educational growth (Dewey, 1916); increasing teacher agency to develop
effective pedagogical strategies (Dewey, 1920) and cultivating stable habits
Central to Dewey educational thinking was the idea that project-based enquiry could interest and motivate learners to engage with the knowledge needed to embark and sustain a process of continually interacting and reconstructing experiences (Dewey, 1916). In this way, the pragmatic quest for unity between experience and knowledge, pursued through personal growth, could overcome the dualism which might otherwise exist between the child and the curriculum and the school and society. Therefore, for Dewey (1916) considerations of educational value did not contain a hierarchy of specialised subject ends. Rather, there was merit in merging the humanistic with naturalistic studies than following dualist tradition, where learning materials and contexts were often isolated from learners’ previous experiences in and beyond school. As Dewey (1916, p. 140) notes, being disciplinary stifles ‘every question, subdued every doubt and removed the subject from the realm of rational discussion’ … (and then when the learner loses interest and) … ‘the fault lay with him, not with the study or methods of teaching.’ Therefore, following Dewey (1916, p. 137) ‘interest is an educative development which leads to considering individual children according to their specific capabilities, needs and preferences’and where self-determination pursued through the metaphor of growth can explain the link between education and a democratic and participative way of life.
In the two decades before the publication of Democracy and Education Dewey tried to lessen the ambiguity in his writings by moving from seeing a relatively direct connection between interest and impulses to a position where interests
could provide leverage through signposting how desires and the needs of learners could foster interest (Jonas, 2011). The paper reviews the fine detail of how this could occur and critiques how Dewey considered that helping teachers to comprehend the philosophicalgradations of interest would help them seek out new ways of engaging with learners, as evident by the type of questions asked, the ways tasks are described and the connections which made between areas of shared interest. Crucial to taking this remit forward is engaging in activity which leads to accompanying feelings of pleasure and self-expression and interest which arises within the learner in relation to the subject.
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