Notes for a New Curriculum
As children go back to school – or not – and we’re all agreed that we weren’t all in this together after all and that THINGS HAVE TO CHANGE, it’s time for a radical reappraisal of the secondary school curriculum, to orient students towards a knowledge of how we have come to be where we are now, and what we could do about it.
Here are five strands (not subjects, because they parcel up the world into discrete topics that seem irrelevant to our lives and obscure underlying cause and effect) intended to equip school leavers with a profound understanding of their world and their rights and responsibilities within it – and the means to challenge whatever threatens it.
- It’s not history
The Black Lives Matter has generated long-overdue scrutiny of the oppression and exploitation of black people and of the slave trade. It’s time to reveal the real source of all that we take for granted in the built environment, in our cultural holdings, and in our unexamined assumptions. Let’s also look at what’s behind so many refugees being forced to flee their countries and exactly why they want to come here.
It’s also time, certainly in the UK, to question whether it’s right that we should be endlessly replicating the outcome of arbitrary decisions taken centuries ago, such as William the Conqueror’s grant of a third of Sussex to Roger de Montgomery over 900 years ago, meaning that the Duke of Norfolk is still the premier duke in England, with all that that entails.
- Follow the money
Why are the poor still with us, when we’re old enough to know better? Why is it that with the sixth largest economy in the world, we still have people who can’t afford to buy enough to eat? How does money work? There’s a wealth of material to give us the answers but the mechanisms at work are rarely analysed.
Everyone needs to know the basics, like what’s behind your bins being emptied and the roads maintained, but we also need to be aware of when we’re being robbed, and by whom. For example, the radio documentary Macquarie: The Tale of the River Bank should probably be a ‘set text’, with its unmasking of an asset-stripping exercise of epic proportions committed against a public utility, leading to disastrous consequences for water quality. You would then follow this up with scrutiny of tax evasion, trusts, the loss of social housing, and last but not least the potential for deregulation to degrade our environment.
- Media studies
Much reviled as a non-subject with little intellectual content, media studies is needed now more than ever, so that everyone can interrogate the stream of information and misinformation that flows past us, distinguish the fake news from the real, find out exactly what the source is for any given item and why they might want to tell us this, challenge the climate change deniers, and unpick the suspect statistics.
- Child care
I make no apology for banging in about this all the time, and I’m doing it again. A species that doesn’t know how to look after its young is doomed to extinction – and that includes ensuring that they have an uncontaminated and fertile environment in which to grow.
- Rhetoric, grammar and logic
These might have been absent from the curriculum for over a hundred years now, surviving perhaps only in the optional activity of the debating society, but being able to express yourself clearly and compellingly is a vital skill, underpinned by the clarity of thinking that grammar and logic bring. It’s still the case that those who can argue the hind legs off a donkey tend to thrive at the expense of those unable to articulate their predicament. If Johnson is serious about levelling up, this is one way he could do it.
I’m waiting for my call, Gavin.