What is knowledge rich? Part 4: cultural capital

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

(Hirst, 1993)

In parts 1, 2 and 3 I have worked from Hirst’s conclusion about knowledge and the curriculum. I have explored the idea of music as a significant social cultural practice and how thinking of music in terms of particular musical practices in all their multitudinous manifestations opens the mind to music making as the lived experience of meaning making and knowledge creation.

Particular musical practices of course are not without provenance, ways of being and thinking, they will have primers and principles, ways of knowing and becoming knowledgeable. Some will have great longevity – bell ringing and gamelan playing, for example, and with canonic authority and its contestation to consider.

It was Denis Lawton’s view that curriculum, in its broadest sense, constitutes a selection from a culture of a society. [1] The making of  music curriculum then would call for a selection to be made and this would require attention to criteria informing that selection. Or perhaps selection would be arbitrary, whimsical and without principle (me being whimsical).

In that Teme Valley primary school of the 1970s that I referred to in part 2, the children were introduced to the practice of unison singing, recorder playing and hand bell ringing. Was this selection a matter of cultural habit, dominant thinking of the time, the serendipity of hand bells being at hand? In my local primary school the selection made sees year 3 practising the ukulele and making music in string ensemble, year 4 are practising ocarinas and recorders, year 5 making samba, and year 6 steel panning and composing computer generated music, while all years are inducted into a variety of vocal practices. How was this selection made?

Those maintaining that only the ‘best’ be selected may be demurring about the lack of a traditional imprint in the music making of my local primary school. They might say, ‘but where is the knowledge, where are the touchstones of western European high culture, where is the cultural capital that will ensure the making of an informed citizen of a united nation?’ [2]

The call is for a common curriculum made in the cause of uniting a nation and furthering social cohesion.

Will this be a mono culture?

Which musical practices will be proscribed?

Where will space be found for cultural pluralities?

Why would a mono cultural approach bring about social cohesion any more than a cultural plural approach?

Next week a look at Michael Young’s powerful knowledge thesis.


[1] Lawton, D. (1975) Class, Culture and the curriculum. Routledge and Keegan Paul: London.

[2] See Hirsch, E. D. (1996) ‘The Schools we need and why we don’t have them’. Double Day: New York.

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