What is knowledge rich? Part 3: knowledge and culture

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

(Hirst, 1993)

In Part 2 I examined the idea of social practice and worked a little with the example of bell ringing. This was a part of thinking more generally of music as music-making and as a social practice. And to take another step we can view social musical practices such as bell ringing, community ukulele playing, Anglican choral singing, lip-syncing and the construction of quodlibets as cultural practices. In recognising particular cultural practices we can, if we choose, make ever finer distinctions. Anglican choral singing is made up of a vast range of distinctive musical practices, for example. [1]

Social practices exist as culture and it is a selection from culture that the school curriculum is made.

But how do we begin to think about culture. One useful distinction to be made is between two well established ways.

  1. The anthropological – ‘a whole way of life’; the totality of activities and artifacts. (Derived from Tylor 1871)
  2. The product of intellectual and artistic activity – ‘the best that has been thought and    said’. (Derived from Arnold 1869)

2. is a narrowing of meaning and restrictive, sometimes becoming even narrower to include only (high) art works, sometimes narrower still to include only the literary arts. By restricting the idea of culture in this way it can not only be evaluative but programmatic. There can be benchmarks of goodness, what Arnold called touchstones. There can be connoisseurship where gate keepers determine what is good and true. The emphasis is on products or works removed from the ongoing conditions of their practice. The concept of the work is crucial.

On the other hand 1. places emphasis on activities inseparable from the material conditions of life, from culture lived and practised. Not works but practices lead the way.

Making music is a form of cultural practice where its value resides in the ends to which it is put. See https://jfin107.wordpress.com/scholarly-paper-the-ethical-significance-of-music-making-by-wayne-bowman/  , for example.

The current claim to knowledge rich curriculum would appear to rest upon 2 above. Here knowledge is divined from a narrowly conceived idea of culture through which knowledge comes to be narrowly conceived and easily reified.

This leads us the consider the idea of cultural capital, an idea much-loved by the knowledge richness of the new traditionalism.


[1] There may be the temptation at this point to move towards referring to these in terms of specific genres and sub-genres. However, once we make that move, we distance what is a human practice from the meaning making and knowledge creation of the here and now and what is a lived culture.


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