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.

 

 

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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.