What should be taught?

Posted in: Comment, Talks and Presentations

I'm looking forward to the seminar on May 8th at Bath.  Here's the blurb:

What should be taught in the university and school curriculum?  Should we focus on a western enlightenment paradigm?  Are we ignoring other epistemologies and views of the world?  Two distinguished speakers tackle this from divergent viewpoints.  The presentations will be followed by fishbowl conversations to break down traditional speaker-audience divides. 

Michael Young is a renowned educational sociologist of knowledge and Professor Emeritus at UCL Institute of Education. His seminal research from the 1970s to his recent work on knowledge and social realism has influenced generations of researchers and policy makers worldwide. As well as directing the Post 16 Research Centre, he was appointed Research Advisor to the City and Guilds of London Institute and the OECD.

In Powerful Knowledge, the Curriculum and the Future of Education, Michael argues that there is an assault on expert knowledge by right wing populism, by utilitarianism and by identity based politics. He traces the intellectual and sociological origins of the concept ‘powerful knowledge’ and indicates both why it has been criticized and why it has the potential to give access to power not just for an elite but for all students as their democratic right.

Melz Owusu is undertaking a PhD in Social Theory at the University of Leeds and is also a grime MC/ rapper presenting academic and poetic responses to social crises on TEDx, the Huffington Post and at the University of Oxford.  Contributing to transformation at the University of Leeds, she was also recently featured as a modern day Black political activist in an exhibition at the Tate Modern. 

In Decolonising the Academy Melz argues that the academy is steeped in colonial Eurocentric beliefs and an all-encompassing Eurocentric epistemology. Melz explores how the academy values different forms of knowledge and questions who benefits from a Eurocentric academy, ending with how this can be challenged. 

I suspect that there is much the speakers can agree on, if they allow themselves to do it.  And those who see this as either / or may well have their own axes to grind.  Then there's the question of whether it's sensible to talk about schools and universities in the same breath.  Well, we shall see if that can be managed sensibly.  Personally, I think that there is much in the Enlightenment that needs to be cherished – one aspect is a respect for freedom of expression that enables debates such as these.  Robert Tombs, writing in The Times the other day, made this and other important points.  This is a key passage from his article:

"Is there a core of ideas, practices and institutions that provide a bedrock?  Most of us would perhaps optimistically say yes, and even agree broadly on what they are.  We would say tolerance; largely an invention of the 18th century.  Then rationality and the scientific method; also largely from the 17th and 18th centuries, but with a link back to ancient Greece.  We would probably say “the rule of law”, which derives from the ancient world and the Middle Ages.  We would surely too say “democracy”, although only a 19th and even 20th-century development, with distant links to the Greek and Roman republics.  We would also say “equality”, or at least some notion of equality before the law, or equality of opportunity as an ideal: that too goes back to the 17th and 18th centuries.  We would probably also say things like rights, justice, fairness, which we could trace back to the Middle Ages and to documents such as Magna Carta.  And deep in the foundations are Judeo-Christian principles: charity, love, peace, justice, forgiveness.I also think that there's more to the world than Europe."

Equally, certainly, there's more to the world than the Enlightenment, and there's a history of Europe – world interactions that needs thinking about critically.

As I said, I'm looking forward to it ... .  Tickets here.

Posted in: Comment, Talks and Presentations


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