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.

 

 

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