What We Must Teach

What We Must Teach

I hesitate to join the clamour of people suggesting what else should be taught in schools. Graffiti problem? Whack a pro-social program into schools. Homophobic problem? Push a gender equity program in schools. Political apathy problem? Make a civics program compulsory.

Small wonder schools are asked to take extra duties on board. It's really the last chance any government has to influence future society for good. And, a lot of their suggested additives to the curriculum have some merit. However, I feel for the teachers. To use a sporting analogy, teachers are often on the wing taking a "hospital pass" that no-one else wants, yet they are expected to survive the attention of an aggressive opposition, manufacture enough magic to move the ball up-field, and finally, and win the match with an unstoppable goal. 

There are not many clamouring to take things out of the school curriculum. The result? Over-stuffed timetables and under-resourced teachers. 

The Greeks had only one faculty and it was the Faculty of Wonder. I found this to be an inspirational thought which led me to the idea of ditching the existing curriculum and replacing it with just six subjects.

The first faculty I would want operating in my school would be the Faculty of Wonder. It has the learning sequence right. Create the wonder to effect the learning. All too often we try to affect the learning to create the wonder. This is not so effective. There is little in this world more dispiriting than spending time answering questions our students are not asking. As George Bernard Shaw stated: ‘What we want to see is the child in pursuit of knowledge and not knowledge in pursuit of the child’.

My second faculty would be the Faculty of Communication. It would accommodate the hardy annuals of literature and language that bloom in foreign and native fields, but I would seek more. I would seek the study of body language, of voice tone, gesture, symbol and the language of behaviour. Why is it that when body language can be a stronger form of communication than written or verbal communication, we ignore the learning of it in our schools?  Interpreting mood, sensing another’s meaning and intent – these contribute greatly to emotional and social maturity. Even the language of prayer can be taught. The prophets talked to God and read God’s reply in nature, circumstance, scripture and sound. We don’t, we have lost the art. Then, of course, there is the language of technology.  We do control it, or does it control us?

Another faculty would be the Faculty of Relationships – not just between people – but between people and the natural world. Do we own the world, or does the world own us?  We are only dimly aware of the vital relationship that exists between human health and environmental health and between human beauty and natural beauty. Much of the breakdown in the civilised world is due to a lack of connectedness, of failing to see ourselves belonging in relationship with others, with nature and with God. Perhaps one of our most neglected relationships is with ourselves, the result of which has seen Australia having one the highest teenage suicide rates in the world.

Other faculties that I would consider include the Faculties of Creativity and Problem Solving. Knowing things is becoming less important than knowing what to do with the things we know. Filling minds with knowledge has its merits, but there is greater merit in being able to use that knowledge to solve a problem. Given that information is expanding so rapidly, learning information is less important than learning how to learn.

Ethics is another faculty I would introduce. We are in a post-modern age of moral ambivalence. The absolutes of spiritual decree have gone and been replaced, at best, by situational ethics and, at worst, by nothing. There is a need to consider what should be valued and what should not. Valuing too little leads to nihilism. Valuing too much is naive. Choosing appropriate values is essential for any society that wishes to consider itself civilised.

Of course, modern technologies is a resource that needs to be properly understood and managed by our students. Teaching the ethical use of such technology, ensuring that it enriches rather than enslaves, teaching coding, analytics and digital entrepreneurship etc, are just some of the associated disciplines that might need to be made more of a priority in our schools.

Our children need a curriculum that is designed for something better than an exam used by the tertiary sector to select students. They deserve better than courses designed to push socio-political agendas. They deserve better than lessons peddling information that will be useless the second they step out of a school.

We need to teach less in order for our children to learn more.


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