23 SES 08 D, The Politics of School Knowledge
Theoretical debates of the past decade have revived questions about knowledge and curriculum purposes (Young, 2013, Biesta 2013, Trohler 2016, Yates 2016), and curriculum reforms in Europe and globally have newly prioritised testing oriented either to so-called basics of literacy, numeracy and science, or to ‘21st century’ competencies or skills (Hopmann, 2013). Both developments raise questions about how humanities subjects are impacted by reforms that prioritise testing and other utilitarian purposes and how adequately humanities subjects are conceptualised as forms of knowledge in curriculum. Young, for example, makes a case that ‘powerful knowledge’ is ‘non-everyday’ knowledge, that it is conceptual, abstract, structured and differs in kind from socialization in the non-school world. Does this perspective work for the humanities subjects? Tröhler, sees curriculum as primarily about developing particular national values and characteristics, and the humanities subjects are evident policy tools for this (Yates & Grumet 2011). But do such purposes over-ride recognition of these fields as specific forms of knowledge? The paper draws on two Australian research projects, one concerned with history compared with physics; the other concerned with ‘literary knowledge’. The projects are different in overall design but share the following research questions (1) how do teachers conceptualize the specificity of this subject as knowledge?, (2) how do policies and curriculum frameworks position the subject as knowledge?, (3) what implications does a consideration of these humanities subjects have for current conceptual thinking about knowledge and curriculum purposes? The history project (Yates et.al. 2017) used semi-structured interviews with over 100 teachers and academics, and focused on disciplinarity; and on issues of ‘horizontal’ and ‘vertical’ knowledge forms. The project on ‘Literary Knowledge and the Making of English Teachers’ is in its early stages and uses a national survey, interviews and focus groups to investigate the networks and formal education experiences through which specific concepts of literary knowledge are constructed, and how these are reconstructed by new teachers in the specific context of school. We found the value of history as a school subject was understood differently at the political level (emphasizing substantive knowledge), compared with by teachers (emphasizing historiographic training). In the case of Literary Studies early investigations indicate a lack of reference to ‘knowledge’ in curriculum frameworks and a diversity of how the discipline is understood (historically, nationally and in debates within the field).
Biesta, G. (2013) The Beautiful Risk of Education. Abingdon: Routledge. Hopmann, S. (ed.) (2013) The End of Education as We Know It? Special issue of Journal of Curriculum Studies, 45 (1). Tröhler, D. (2016) Curriculum history or the educational construction of Europe in the long nineteenth century. European Educational Research Journal, 15 (3), 279-297. Yates, L. & Grumet, M. (ed) (2011) Curriculum in Today’s World: configuring knowledge, identities, work and politics. London: Routledge. Young, M. (2013) Overcoming the crisis in curriculum theory: a knowledge-based approach. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 45 (2), 101-118. Yates, L., Woelert, P., Millar, V. & O’Connor, K. (2017) Knowledge at the Crossroads? History and Physics in the changing world of schools and universities. Singapore: Springer. Yates, L. (2016) Europe, transnational curriculum movements and comparative curriculum theorizing, EERJ, 15 (3), 366-373.
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