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Selected Works

Learning, Curriculum and Life Politics: the selected works of Ivor F. Goodson

Towards an Alternative Pedagogy

If, as I intend, this description is taken as characterizing a new pedagogy at work, a number of important implications need to be clearly enunciated. Firstly, learning will often involve individual negotiation between pupil and teacher: the teacher learns alongside his pupils, an adult learner among young learners, though with additional responsibilities to those of his charges. The teacher helps the child isolate a problem which is puzzling him (the example given related to the second world war), together they devise a plan for investigating the problems, the investigation promotes a number of hypothesis, these are worked through and reformulated, and together the teacher and child discus and define a mutually acceptable solution. In this case the teacher's energy, resource preparation and stock of commonsense and specialist knowledge is used in facilitating the child's inquiry into something he has become interested in. (In transmission the teacher puts much of his energy and resources into preparation before confronting the variety of children's interest - a fatiguing gamble which too seldom pays off.)

Secondly, the pedagogy implies a radical re-ordering of the way in which knowledge is defined. The rhetoric of transmission schools maintains that the child gets a balanced 'diet' of 'subjects' which cover the main disciplines of knowledge. But this must be recognised as rhetoric: the knowledge which teachers transmit has never been 'received' by most children. That is why there are 2 million acknowledged adult illiterates, why I can do no mathematics and speak no foreign languages (not even Latin), why in many schools only the minority are even offered subject transmission while the rest do 'Parentcraft', 'Personal Development' and 'Motor Cycle Maintenance'. Knowledge, as transmitted in schools, has been described by Barness: 'School knowledge which someone else presents to us. We partly grasp it, enough to answer examination questions, but it remains someone else's knowledge, not ours. If we never use this knowledge we probably forget it' (Barnes 1976, p. 81).

Although optimistic (how many pupils even sit exams, let alone answer the questions successfully?), this description catches the essence of school knowledge and Barnes goes on to argue for a new view of knowledge known as 'action knowledge':

In so far as we use knowledge for our own purposes ... we begin to incorporate it into our view of the world, and to sue parts of it to cope with the exigencies of living. Once the knowledge becomes incorporated into our view of the world on which our actions are based, I would say it has become 'action knowledge' (Barnes 1976, p. 81).

Only if the teacher gives the child access to 'action knowledge' can learning take place. An alternative pedagogy would seek to offer the child such an opportunity whilst transmission pedagogy pre-empts it. In placing the individual pupil in such a central position in defining the approach to knowledge there is not only a psychological rationale (which some traditionalists concede) but a logical rationale too. All subject matter begins with an original attempt to solve problems and it is this unitary process of knowledge creation that should be the focus of pedagogy, not the transmission of its differentiated products. Only by involvement in this process can the pupil begin exploration of the wider fields and forms of knowledge: that successive broadening and deepening of knowledge which is the only route to a 'balanced curriculum' for each child.

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  • Date of publication: 15/09/2005
  • Number of pages (as Word doc): 272
  • Publisher: Routledge
  • Subject:
    Curriculum Studies, Narrative Theory
  • Available in:
  • Appears in:
    Learning, Curriculum and Life Politics: the selected works of Ivor F. Goodson
  • Number of editions: 1
  • Paperback
  • Price of book: £27.99
  • ISBN: 978-0-415-35220-8
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