The Saber Tooth Curriculum

Nothing like a good holiday to refresh the brain cells and to allow for some solid reflection.I came across an interesting article by Kent University sociologist Frank Furedi on why education in the West is no longer working.

Furedi makes some valid points –  namely that education systems are risking losing the ‘intellectual legacy of the past’ by following educational fads that are responding to rapid social and technological change.

He claims abstract thought and knowledge are viewed by contemporary curriculum engineers as outdated.  The curriculum for the new generation of digital learners with its focus on devices and access to rapidly expanding information sources therefore requires learners to be ‘trained’  not ‘taught’. This is a very different curriculum focus!

What is an appropriate 21st century curriculum and what needs to change/adapt to today’s world?

The curriculum cannot be reduced to a preoccupation with courses, content and accountability. The curriculum should be holistic – designed to develop the mind, imagination and character of students.  It is grounded in values and strengthened by supportive relationships. It is built upon the bedrock of schooling: literacy, numeracy and socialisation.

When we teach children to read, write, add and subtract we give them the tools to think, critically reflect, act and adapt to a constantly changing world.  It is the the moral of the satire, Saber Tooth Curriculum by HRW Benjamin and the argument Furedi makes:

The discussion of the relationship between education and change is frequently overwhelmed by the fad of the moment and with the relatively superficial symptoms of new developments. It is often distracted from acknowledging the fact the fundamental educational needs of students do not alter every time a new technology influences people’s lives.

Students inevitably become the casualties as teachers attempt to respond to these fads: changing curricula, increasing government accountability, parental expectations etc.

Teachers need to teach not train.  It requires a continual reminder of the purpose of schooling and where the effectiveness of teachers’ work lies.

Good and relevant pedagogies personalise learning, enable the learner, highlight the interpersonal nature of learning and contribute to building the learning community.

Reading the Saber Tooth Curriculum reminded me of the Grain in the Stone chapter in J Bronowski’s Ascent of Man.  

According to the author, one of the most important developmental steps man has taken – the move from techicnal to intellectual…”the distinction between the moulding action of the hand, and the splitting or analytical action of the hand.

Bronowski explains that the splitting of wood and stone becomes an act of discovery about the world and the nature of things.

The notion of discovering an underlying order in matter is man’s basic concept for exploring nature.  The architecture of things reveals a structure below the surface, a hidden grain which, when it is laid bare, makes it possible to take natural formations apart and assemble them in new arrangements.  It is as native to the way man conceives his own communities as it is to his conception of nature. (p 95)

This insight supports Furedi’s point that education should help students understand the ‘influence of the legacy of human development on their lives’.

It is only then that we can look to the future.

Happy New Year.


3 thoughts on “The Saber Tooth Curriculum

  1. I started and finished John Hirst’s, “The Shortest History of Europe”. It is brilliant, incredibly concise and all students, everyone really, should read it. I’m sure Frank would approve as it certainly ‘gives meaning to human experience’.

    I am enthusiastic about digital technologies, not the fadish ‘games’ that teachers can use on the internet, although, I’m sure some are perfect for some topics. I suspect that most schools have been nowhere near what Furedi describes (in a pretty lightweight article) and basically what we have now is a result of complex forces, not progressive ideas on education.

    My recent thoughts on this matter keep returning to the importance of being traditionally literate, along with a whole host of other literacies:
    http://darcymoore.net/2010/01/03/life-long-learning-in-twenty-ten/

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