If unsure where to begin, start with Clare Sealy. Her lucid presentation on schemata is probably the best way to organise the sensory and cognitive overload of yesterday’s sun-blessed #CurriculumEd2019:
Whether the organisers’ genuine commitment filtered through to every corner of the site or 800-years-plus of intellectual and spiritual residue in the buildings played a part, I don’t know. But I do know that I cannot remember the last time an education conference challenged my basic assumptions.
This transformative experience was not as much in relation to curriculum design, as it was acquiring some thought-provoking insights into how treacherously fixed my own schemata on the education sector have become. So, before I delve into subject content, here’s a personal narrative, if you will permit.
Regular readers of this blog will be aware of my deep reservations about EduTwitter and the role it plays in the bifurcation of the education sector into what we, for want of a better word, term Traditionals and Progressives. I’ve also expressed worry about the often brutal dismissal of alternative viewpoints rather than curious intellectual discussion – as would behove people with direct responsibility for future generations.
Just to be clear, I’m not moralising; that debate poses a real threat to the success of my commitment to develop a successful Participatory Budgeting programme in schools: If I allow that initiative to be framed either by traditionalists (it’s another round of hopeless Project-Based Learning) or by progressives (it’s business-worshipping worker-prep) the concept will sink before it clears the harbour.
Now, here begins my confession: I was mainly concerned that the social action element of Participatory Budgeting in schools would raise a red flag in the widely influential traditional camp. This is why spent months chasing up prominent traditionalist to ensure a balanced and grounded conversation at the initial co-design workshop last month. (I am in debt to Robert Peal and, especially, to Mark Lehain’s colleague Mike, of Parents and Teachers for Excellence, for taking an interest in that regard).
I am ashamed to realise that I expected the major resistance to the idea of Participatory Budgeting from the traditional side only because I had myself subconsciously accepted certain assumptions about certain groups of people: Conservative. Closed-minded. Authoritarian. Reactionary. Aggressive, even.
The insight came when I found myself at CurricullumEd2019 in what literally resembles a scene from a music festival, with people lounging, chatting and laughing in the sunlit grass. The whole vibe is the Summer of 69, if Haight-Ashbury had been run by capable professionals. It is rebellion. It is hope. It is collaboration. It’s a willingness to create change.
And it is most certainly not black-and-white in any way shape or form: Lead speakers such as Martin Robinson call into question any simple definitions of ‘The Best Which has Been Thought and Said’ and tells us to ask the kids. RSA Animate documents the presentations, only in the style of classical painting. Sean Harford criticises Ofsted and mocks the Thatcher-era. Hilarious and intelligent references to past and present cultural icons by Clare Sealy. Jude Hunton calls us to involve teachers and leaders directly in creative curriculum development and appeals to use student voice as a measuring device for enactment of intent. Tom Middlehurst makes the holistic claim that “the extracurricular does not exist.” Delegates discuss their reservations about the benefits of academisation and DfE consultant spending. And a social justice warrior if ever I saw one, Hollie Jones, quotes Sir Ken Robinson on her slides.
And, in one surreal instance, Jude Hunton inadvertently turns Clare Sealy’s idea of a well-planned “Game of Thrones director’s cut curriculum” on its head by referencing Netflix’s interactive series, where the viewer makes decisions on the plotline.
So, how exactly is any of this even remotely conservative… or even traditional?
And I haven’t even gotten into the personal encounters. Thank you especially to the two lovely colleagues who took this lonely straggler under their wing and risked second degree burns because they were conversing with me instead of minding their leaky tea cup. Do get in touch!
Finally, before we all start hugging and singing Lennon’s Imagine, do you remember what I said above about the 60ies rebellion run by professionals? Christine Counsell makes her seemingly fantastic claim that we can teach Horace in KS3 not because she has a dream, but because the primary curriculum has painstakingly laid the groundwork. Schemata. Again.
So, this is what I learned yesterday at CurriculumEd2019: That my own schemata are not without their flaws, that all people are wonderful up close, and that there is no other closed-mindedness except my own. Thank you to everyone present for making me aware of that.
(And, yes, copious notes shall be shared… notifications on Twitter).