Radicalization of Geographical Education in Singapore through Powerful Knowledge and Powerful Pedagogy, pp. 2 of 5

Young’s radical case

Situating his arguments around the reforms of the National Curriculum in England, Young (2010) argues that these reforms, which centre on social, political, and economic contexts in the United Kingdom, have “neglected or at least played down the fundamental educational role of the curriculum” (p. 23). Young (2009) argues that the curriculum cannot be seen just as a tool to achieve pragmatic goals such as “mass vocationalism” (p. 11) or for motivating students to learn, rather it should “take pupils beyond their experience in ways that they would be unlikely to have access to at home” (Young, 2010, p. 24), providing them with powerful knowledge that takes them beyond their daily experiences.

Furthermore, Young’s (2010) premise that powerful knowledge is specialized and not tied to specific contexts makes it a key criterion for a curriculum. The purpose of the curriculum is the “intellectual development of students” (Young, 2010, p. 24). Access to powerful knowledge in the curriculum takes learners beyond the specific contexts of their experience and achieving that access is what schools are about. The curriculum enacted in schools is therefore one where “the world is treated as an ‘object of thought’ and not as a ‘place of experience’ [and] subjects bring together ‘objects of thought’ as systematically related sets of ‘concepts’” (Young, 2010, p. 25). Learners’ experiences are a matter for pedagogy, which Young argues is “conceptually distinct” (p. 23) from the curriculum. Teachers have the important pedagogic task of introducing these concepts to students and to help them make sense of these concepts within their everyday lives. In addition, Young argues that depriving students of powerful knowledge would deprive students of knowledge that extended beyond their lived experiences.

The schooling, curriculum and pedagogy debate

It has been argued that the purposes of schooling has somewhat shifted over time from that of teaching the working class their place in a capitalist society (Althusser, 1971; Bowles & Gintis, 1976; Willis 1977), to disciplining students and normalizing knowledge as subjects in institutions of surveillance and control (Foucault, 1991), to defining it in instrumental terms as a means to an end (Young, 2009) and more recently argued as for the transmission of powerful knowledge (Young, 2010). I argue that what does not really change is that at any one time a prescribed curriculum is imposed on schools, which shapes the subject and pedagogy. However the curriculum itself changes its focus over time, depending on the emerging trends and issues at the national and/or global levels (Seifer, 1998; Barnett, 2000; Priestley, 2002; Stevenson, 2007). In addition, the inclusion or exclusion (of parts) of subject knowledge over time, according to Roberts (2014), is due to a very practical reason that time, and even resources, available in schools for the delivery of the curriculum are limited.

An Inspiring Quote

"[Open-mindedness] includes an active desire to listen to more sides than one; to give heed to facts from whatever source they come; to give full attention to alternative possibilities; to recognize the possibility of error even in the beliefs that are dearest to us."

~ John Dewey, How We Think

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