Recently I was talking to a group of friends, not high achievers, in the conventional sense, but well educated. Okay, they were teachers. Somehow the conversation got around to the most pointless things we learned at school.
Universally it was mathematics at secondary school. We could all remember the words: sin, cosine and the quadratic… erm… thingy etc. but no one could recall the purpose of it. There are those that say we should seek knowledge as a “thing in itself” but it seems to me that the meaning of something is constructed in relation to its purpose in the world.
Education, of course, is about “powerful knowledge” but it cannot escape the everyday. Everyone knows that if you drop a ball it will fall to the floor, however, it is knowledge of the laws of gravity that turns everyday knowing into powerful knowledge. We can answer the “why” question; a ball drops to the floor because……! Every subject has a discourse of the everyday, a conversation that helps to give powerful knowledge its meaning.
Why base teaching on the everyday? It is a pragmatic progressive idea but the everyday re-enforces learning. The more a teacher can infuse everyday events into theoretical propositions the more likely those theoretical propositions will be recalled and contextualised. A child may ask why a ball drops to the floor in general conversation they are less likely to ask about the laws of gravity. The answer they receive when the question is asked contributes to a developing base of knowledge. What prompts the question is the everyday event.
I would suggest that the best thinkers relentlessly frame, and re-frame the everyday world. The construction of conceptual tools leads to ever more complex schemas. There are pitfalls. One criticism of progressive ideas is that everyday knowing has become more important than the “powerful knowledge” that explains it.. Using “Hip hop” to re-enforce some aspect of learning becomes pointless if “Hip hop” becomes the point of the learning.
This is not a new idea. Of course, Vygotsky contributed much to developing theory in this area.
So three questions to ask when interpreting a curriculum:
1) why does the subject matter;
2) what is the discourse of the subject;
3) how does it relate to, and transcend the everyday?