Saturday, 6 July 2013

Core knowledge and the Metro

 E.D.Hirsch's Core Knowledge curriculum has come under scrutiny since a certain Mr Gove has been espousing it to all and sundry.

For those on the 'knowledge' side of the (false) dichotomy in education, Hirsch's idea - of identifying the knowledge needed to understand the 'cultural capital' of an educated person - is just what is required. 

For those on the 'skills' side, specifying the knowledge that kids should know, and in what year it might be a good idea to teach is, is a very bad thing and will lead to children sitting in rows, practicing recall of unrelated facts.

However, as Laura McInerney points out in a recent blog, specifying content does not specify the way in which it can be taught, and that in itself, Hirsch's core knowledge curriculum does not limit what a teacher does, or how children learn this information.

I thought that it would be an interesting exercise to read a paper with the aim of identifying what knowledge was required to make sense the stories contained in it.  So on Friday morning, I picked up the Metro, and on my train journey, read each story to try and identify any underlying concepts, ideas, facts that might be helpful in understanding what was happening in the world.  Although this is a snapshot only there were a lot of topics and ideas included.  I also stopped making notes before I got to the entertainment, finance and sports pages, so what follows is just from the 'news' section of the paper.

Topics and ideas.
Perhaps unsurprisingly in a newspaper there was a lot of underlying information about the law and judicial system required.  Some of the things mentioned were: Crown court, Magistrates court, Judge, Solicitor, Jury, parole, perjury and (a blast from the past) Borstal.

There were also law related ideas such as: Fraud , Shoplifting, Coroner, Court martial, MI5, SAS, house-arrest, Information commissioner, Data protection act and political concepts such as: Unions and their links with Labour, the Commons, shadow cabinet, Democracy, anti-apartheid, German Chancellor, The Whitehouse

Science and medicine also found their place into the paper: Vegetative state, Life support machine, Dorsal region of brain, Radio waves from space, Crosswinds, Post-natal depression, Spinal damage (prolapsed disc, cauda equina syndrome), Down syndrome, Galaxies, Airspace, Satellite images,  Earthquakes and the richter scale, Mirage, Kidney failure, Negative feedback, Breast cancer, Evolutionary psychologists,  Professor of health psychology,  US Food and Drug Administration, Traditional chinese medicine (and use of animal parts). Notably, some of these terms (especially those related to medicine) were explained in slightly more detail - perhaps because it isn't assumed to be general knowledge. There were also units of measurements included in some stories, including for area square inch and square centimetre

There were also a number of animals mentioned, but interestingly, no plants that I spotted. Starfish, Pubic lice, Zebra-snouted seahorse, Mites (in cheese)

Political geography also appears, as well as news from around the world.  I haven't included all the countries that were mentioned in the 'news in brief' stories here, but the reader would have needed to know about the current and historical situations of South Africa, Afghanistan (Helmand Province) and Egypt to understand the context of some of the other stories in the paper.

A variety of people were mentioned, historical and contemporary, real and fictional: Boudica (with very brief summary of her story), Genghis Khan (and Mongol empire), Louis XIV, Mahatma Ghandi, Bhudda, Osama bin Laden, German chancellor, Bolshoi Ballet, Lex Luther, Hamlet, Homer.

The reader would also need to understand the historical dating system that we use: BC, AD and century

There were also words and phrases which were used that I think required some general knowledge, or that were quotes. 'Letting the cat out of the bag', 'Went off the rails', Uber-cool, 'Cathartic', Old testament 'eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot', Media tycoon, Customer backlash, Sexist, Standing ovation, Toupee, Brothel, Parallel parking, Fromage, Spin bowling

Well, I don't think I could make a coherent curriculum out of one day's news, but there was a lot of information that was assumed and implicit in the stories.  
How are our children going to find out that information?  Can it (should it) be taught?