A recent battle for hearts and minds is the movement to create a curriculum which, rather than teaching students what to learn, teaches them how to learn.
Liberation theologian, Paolo Freire, attacked traditional schooling as an exercise in banking where the teacher deposited huge amounts of data into his captive audience who passively acquired, memorised and regurgitated that knowledge.
Traditional education focused on teaching rather than learning. Education reformers challenged this approach and instead preached the importance of inquiry learning, where the student is the key player in the educational equation.
Their mantra was that if we could challenge students to understand how they learnt, they would be capable of learning anything.
It is not that important what they learn. They’ll easily find the information they need at the tap of a mouse.
They argued that most of what was learnt in the classroom will quickly be forgotten and was probably irrelevant anyway.
This new orthodoxy had profound implication for classroom teaching.
Traditional ‘chalk and talk’ teaching was consigned to the dust-bin of history. Students need to be encouraged to be independent learners and discover the answers for themselves.
Teachers would become facilitators and fellow learners in this new classroom regime.
Some are now challenging this new orthodoxy with a whole generation of students graduating without the faintest idea of the most basic seminal knowledge which one would assume any truly educated person would possess.
Whether it be a basic awareness of the history of the world or the philosophies that have influenced our civilisation, our graduates are clueless.
Arguably they may know how to learn, although I refute this.
From my experience they are incapable of engaging in a sensible discussion about anything but pop culture. It is not that these students are not intelligent.
Rather we deemed that it was not important that they graduated with an understanding of their heritage and the culture and history which underpins our modern world.
Most students today cannot make sense of the novels they read because they have inadequate historical, political and cultural background knowledge.
Of course, we want our students to be more effective, active learners who will take responsibility for their learning.
We want them to be life-long learners (as if they were never that anyway!). We want them to be inquisitive and discover answers for themselves.
But sometimes a ‘chalk and talk’ lecture is the best way to teach a concept, especially when introducing a new or particularly complicated concept.
Sometimes students need to memorise information. How embarrassing when the young cashier cannot calculate the simplest change without a calculator?
How embarrassing when a supposedly highly- qualified individual cannot spell basic vocabulary?
I am not dismissing the ‘how to learn’ movement. I am arguing that we always need to be mindful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.