Phronesis and knowledge organisers

As something of an afterthought to my ten part consideration of ‘knowledge richness’ and its emotively charged satelites offering visions of knowledge goodness, I realise that my final example in part 10 was an attempt to reveal:

‘Phronesis (Ancient Greek: φρόνησῐς, translit. phrónēsis) is an Ancient Greek word for a type of wisdom or intelligence. It is more specifically a type of wisdom relevant to practical action, implying both good judgement and excellence of character and habits, or practical virtue.’ [Google]

In so far as I am claiming to be wise I must add that I am growing old and at least in that respect feel that I may be entitled to do so.

The music in the gym this morning was very loud. Radio 1 easily overpowered my iPod choice this morning, the Lesser Litany of Thomas Tallis. Oh, the uses to which music is put.

I politely asked the receptionist whether users of the gym liked the music to be so loud and was Radio 1 the preferred option. This unsurprisingly was not known. But they would look into it. Well, I have started a conversation at least. I wonder how it will conclude.

OK, I just need to get some better earphones.

I sometimes propose that the purpose of music making in school is to enable music to be made well. And you say, what on earth does that mean? Well, the ‘well’ bit can be elaborated through phronesis. We should note that it is a practical form of knowledge melting into oblivion any skills-knowledge dualism.

Of course, phronesis won’t fit into a knowledge organiser.

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What is knowledge rich? Part 10: the wisdom of practical knowledge

The years 1965 to the coming of the National Curriculum in 1992 were a time of energetic debate on the nature of knowledge and the curriculum. And this was my starting point in part 1. The debate yielded a rich body of literature now little known and no part of today’s stuttering and starting conversation around the subject where the race to knowledge organisers, curriculum templates and the reprofessionalising of teachers as the new curriculum-knowledge bearers gathers pace.
‘… we must shift from seeing education as primarily concerned with knowledge to seeing it as primarily concerned with social practices’. (Hirst, 1993)
In earlier blogs, and responding to Hirst’s injunction, I worked with the example of bell ringing and mentioned the longevity of the varieties of Indonesian Gamelan playing; and pointed out that particular musical practices will have particular ways of being and thinking; they will have primers and principles, ways of knowing and becoming knowledgeable. But the proposal is not that all musical practices have equal value. There is the challenge of selecting from culture. Writing of musical practices Wayne Bowman notes: 
‘They are good only to the extent they contribute to human, or, in music education’s case, educational ends. No value (no, not even musical value) is ultimate, unconditional, good without regard for situational particulars or ends served. If and when music is good, that goodness is always a function of its contribution to ends beyond itself. The same is true of music education.’ [1]
The value of musical knowledge, in its many shapes and forms, is contingent.
Martin Robinson recently blogged drawing attention to knowledge as being of an ‘uncertain kind’ and different to scientific knowledge. And drawing from Mary Midgley comes the idea that there might be ‘knowledge as knowing what to think, what to do, even not knowing what to think and do. This knowledge organised by values.’ [2] 

Yes, values, so distinctly absent from much of the current discourse about knowledge and the curriculum.

As Martin goes on to argue, much of the current discourse around knowledge speaks of a paucity of attention to the ‘value for what’ question.

Martin concludes that:

‘A knowledge-rich curriculum is values driven – and not just one set of values determined as right or wrong – but the difficult search through competing values that help us determine how we might live,’ [3]

I would like to think that there is some synergy here with Bowman’s ‘ … we acknowledge and embrace musical experience and study as fundamentally ethical resources – as practices in and through which people wrestle with and seek to answer the vitally important educational question, What kind of person is it good to be?’ [4]

But let the arbitrator be an example that might deemed to be, in some sense, knowledge rich.

The account was written in November 2017.

As last Sunday approached I turned my thoughts to what music I should play before and after the morning service in the village church where I was to play. It was Armistice Sunday and there would be times of thoughtful remembrance in the service.

I felt sure that before the service I should play something solemn and fixed on Handel’s Largo as it used to be known. [5] However, I remained far from certain about what music I should play at the end of the service. Should it be bold, loud, triumphant, glorious? I wasn’t sure. By Sunday morning I still had no clear idea about what would be right. I did have the book in which Handel’s Largo featured amongst ‘100 of the world’s favourite pieces’ and my thoughts rested on several possibilities.

 

In the event, and as the service proceeded, I began to sense what would be right. There were the silences and I thought of my own fore bearers killed in both wars. There were poignant words read by a frail age-ed man and the final hymn was to be ‘I vow to thee, my country’.

I now became clearer about what would be right. I would play ‘I vow to thee, my country’. The congregation would make good sense of this repetition I thought.

As the time approached to play my final part in the service I again felt the mood of the place as I imagined the people’s feelings and sensibilities. And now with a sense of what was right here and now I drew the Lieblich Gedact stop [6] and played the first line of ‘I vow to thee, my country’ slowly and as a single line melody, the second line harmonised and so on with some variation and ending with a lone voice in the lowest of registers.

Later I reflected on what kind of knowledge I had been engaged in.

It wasn’t a matter of knowing that this is the case, these are the facts, here is theoretical knowledge [7] to be applied, but a practical form of knowing bound to particular circumstances drawing upon feeling and intuition to discern what was right. Thought was bound to feeling. It was knowledge that was experienced, felt, saturated with value and independent of concepts and categories and not translatable to any other kind of knowledge.

All this has great relevance for the music classroom and just what it is that is being valued (assessed) and for the ways of knowing that are being prized, for the ways pupils are making sense of their experience.

In response to the demand for a knowledge curriculum, for facts to lead the way, for knowledge to be reduced to statements of truth, for 100 pieces of classical music to be recognised and named, it is helpful to be reminded of a practical form of knowledge that I have tried to communicate above. This will be about learning and living out dispositions towards making music well, finding out what feels right so that all other manifestations of musical knowledge can be imbued with meaning, significance and placed with care in the order of things.

 

Notes:

[1] See https://jfin107.wordpress.com/scholarly-paper-the-ethical-significance-of-music-making-by-wayne-bowman/

[2] See https://martinrobborobinson.wordpress.com

[3] Ibid

[4] See https://jfin107.wordpress.com/scholarly-paper-the-ethical-significance-of-music-making-by-wayne-bowman/

[5] ‘Ombra mai fu’ from the opera Serse.

[6] See http://www.organstops.org/l/lieblichgedeckt.html

[7] Just to note that Michael Young’s Powerful Knowledge is theoretical knowledge.

 

 

What is knowledge rich? Part 9: and the weight of musical scholarship

I find myself returning to the question: what is music? What kind of thing is it? What conception of music do we hold?

One answer might be that music is whatever we want it to be.

But this radical subjectivism is unlikely to help in finding a basis for a music education sponsored by the state. (Or would it? What do you think?)

Another response might be that music exists as a physical object in the form of sound.

This second answer has great provenance within the academic study of music and in conceptions of music that have underpinned beliefs about music education. With this answer comes the proposal that listening is the privileged mode of musical engagement. [1]

Ian Cross suggests that this was the case in 19th and 20th century musicological literature as he makes a case for the re-orientation of the cognitive science of music towards thinking of music as human behaviour. And here then is a third answer.

In this way ‘… music is more than complex patterns of sound that are beautiful, expressive, and listened to because they move us … ‘ [2]

‘… the overwhelming weight of evidence from ethnomusicology suggests that we should conceptualise music as a medium for human interaction that is embedded in, and is efficacious in respect of, social processes.’ [3]

The way we conceptualise music has implications for what might be deemed to be a ‘knowledge rich’ music education. And if a key arbitrator in this is to be the authority of scholarship in music then privileging what Gary Spruce refers to as aesthetic listening to the art work as an autonomous object is no longer justified.

Notes:

[1] See Cross, I. (2012) Cognitive Science and the Cultural Nature of Music. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.1756-8765.2012.01216.x

[2] Ibid.

[3] ibid.

[4] Spruce, G. (2016) Culture, society and musical learning. In (eds) Carolyn Cooke, Keith Evans, Chris Philpott and Gary Spruce, Learning to Teach in the Secondary School. Routledge.

 

 

 

What is knowledge rich? Part 8: beware this cognitive science

In the current discourse surrounding bringing back knowledge and the drive towards knowledge-led and knowledge-rich curriculum the authority of cognitive science is frequently brought forward as a key witness. Learning comes to be positioned around a cluster of fundamentals arrived at through research deploying scientific method. In particular learning becomes circumscribed by a focus on memory and the effective processing of information and the retention of knowledge.

This gives rise to the belief that there can be a best way, based on robust scientific evidence, to teach children if they are to learn in an efficient and effective manner.

However, music as a subject of the curriculum is distinguished by being informed by a longstanding psychology of music all of its own. Is music as a school subject unique in this respect?

Today there is a burgeoning cognitive science of music, but there is also an emerging field – the psychology of musical development.

The scope of Hargreaves and Lamont’s ‘The Psychology of Musical Development’ [1] goes way beyond the narrow focus on memory and knowledge retention and offers a rich source of insights into musical development and human flourishing, for example.

It is interesting to note that those linking knowledge richness and the bringing back of knowledge to the wisdom of cognitive science pay scant attention to developmental psychology. In fact the term ‘developmentalism’ is sometimes used to denote some kind of rejection of knowledge.

Music teachers beware cognitive science without recourse to the wisdom of the cognitive psychology of music, the developmental psychology of music and the cognitive science of music.

Note:

[1] Hargreaves, D.  and Lamont, A. (2017) The Psychology of Musical Development. Cambridge University Press.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What is knowledge rich? Part 7: the story so far

‘… we must shift from seeing education as primarily concerned with knowledge to seeing it as primarily concerned with social practices’.

(Hirst, 1993)

 

In this series of blogs I have set out to clear some ground so that it may be possible to understand better the current clarion calls for a knowledge rich curriculum as it might relate to music.

Below is a distillation of the case made so far.

 

Music is first and foremost a substantive social practice, a rational human discourse, and certainly not a body of knowledge with a uniquely determined conceptual scheme.

Rather, it is a participatory, relational, cultural activity and, provided with an ethical framework, it is educational.

Its resists dependency upon a narrowly conceived conception of culture through which knowledge is narrowly conceived.

There is no justification for making a common curriculum in the cause of social cohesion resting upon a selection from a narrow conception of culture.

The claim that there is a gulf between school musical knowledge and everyday musical  knowledge is mistaken in the case of most subjects and certainly in the case of music.

Music is engaged with not so that students can indwell a unique conceptual scheme but because it is a significant social cultural practice and which flourishes where rootedness in specific contexts of our experience play a fundamental source of knowing, knowledge and meaning making.

 

 

What is knowledge rich? Part 6: the status of everyday knowledge

‘… we must shift from seeing education as primarily concerned with knowledge to seeing it as primarily concerned with social practices’.

(Hirst, 1993)

A central claim in the powerful knowledge thesis is that ‘it is not like common-sense, rooted in specific contexts of our experience. This means that powerful knowledge can be the basis for generalisations and thinking beyond particular contexts or cases …’ [1]

It follows that powerful knowledge requires formal education.

But is there really a gulf between subject-based (schooled) and everyday knowledge as Young argues?

Are everyday concepts detached from and outside the world of subject-based concepts?

Is powerful knowledge a delimited area?

And what is it about this everyday musical knowledge that lacks the power to enable thinking beyond its imminent presence and its particularity?

Well, this case for powerful knowledge won’t do.

In music we recognise the significance of what is termed musical enculturation – all that which is learnt intentionally or unintentionally as a part of growing up and as part of our musical socialisation. All those tunes that come into our head, all the thrumming, hummings and dancings, vocalisations and musings through which we experience and come to know music and from which we are able to move from the particular to the general in our cognitions, perceptions and conceptualisations. Children come to school with vast amounts of musical experience, thick everyday knowledge of music and we should mind the gap between this and how music is in the school.

No gulf but the potential of a powerful dialogue.

Music is engaged with not so that students can indwell a unique conceptual scheme but because it is, yes, wait for it, a significant social cultural practice and which flourishes where rootedness in specific contexts of our experience play a fundamental source of knowing, knowledge and meaning making.

And of course, for its place in the school to be justified much attention needs to be paid to aims or if you prefer to purposes.

As John White points out neither Hirst nor Young attend to aims, rather they leap into curriculum thus starting in the wrong place. And we see this more widely and so vividly in our present educational discourse.

Note:

[1] White, J. (2018) The weakness of ‘powerful knowledge’. London Review of Education, 16, 2: 325-335.

 

 

 

 

What is knowledge rich Part 5: the attraction of powerful knowledge

‘… we must shift from seeing education as primarily concerned with knowledge to seeing it as primarily concerned with social practices’.

(Hirst, 1993)

In 2007 Lessa Wheelahan coined the term powerful knowledge and chiefly contrasted it to the kind of knowledge as defined by employers and key to a number of vocational course in Australia. [1] Such courses were seen as limiting and restricting the student’s capacity to develop a critical perspective on their own social situation and not least the education they were experiencing.

For Michael Young powerful knowledge is ‘not like common sense, rooted in specific contexts of our experience. This means that powerful knowledge can be the basis for generalisations and thinking beyond particular contexts or cases … Powerful knowledge is specialised. In other words, it has been developed by clearly distinguishable groups with a well-defined focus and relatively fixed boundaries, separating different forms of expertise.’ [2]

As philosopher John White points out: ‘the term [powerful knowledge] carries a strong, positive, emotive charge. I suspect this is why it has become attractive to many in the educational world.’ [3]

Michael Young takes powerful knowledge to reside in subjects where interrelated concepts cohere to form unique disciplines.

This makes a similar error to that made by Hirst in his 1965 thesis assuming that all subjects work as mathematics and physics do where conceptual structure is what students spend their time inside. Other subjects simply fail in this respect.

Music has no unique conceptual existence but borrows freely from other sources, physics being one. Music is engaged with not so that students can indwell a unique conceptual scheme but because it is, yes, wait for it, a significant social cultural practice and which flourishes where rootedness in specific contexts of our experience play a fundamental source of knowing, knowledge and meaning making.

One of Michael Young’s central claims that there is a gulf between subject disciplinary knowledge and everyday knowledge is mistaken in the case of most subjects and certainly in the case of music.

Notes:

[1] Wheelehan, L. (2007) How competency-based training locks the working class out of powerful knowledge: a modified Bernsteinian perspective. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 28, 4, 637-651.

[2] White, J. (2018) The weakness of ‘powerful knowledge’. London Review of Education, 16, 2: 325-335.

Other emotive terms come to mind, knowledge rich being one of these.

[3] Young, M. (2015) ‘Unleashing the power of knowledge for all’. Spiked, 1 September. Online. http://www.spiked-online.com/newsite/article/unleashing the power-of-knowledge-for-all/17374#.WfyqqrZOfq1 (accessed 4 September 2018)

For a thorough exposition of the powerful knowledge thesis see Young, M. and Muller, J. (2010) Three Educational Scenarios for the Future: lessons from the sociology of knowledge. European Journal of Education, 45, 1. 11-27.