Chaucer Or Chips

There are two sorts of people in the world, those who divide everything into two categories and those who don’t. Personally, I’ve always found it rather useful to remember the words of George E. P. Box who said: “Essentially, all models are wrong, but some are useful”.  So I’m going to ask you to think about schools for a moment and do a massive oversimplification.

Take a particular subject or topic and categorise it according to the following question: Is it focused on the past or the future?

Yes, I’m sure that in some cases it’s possible to argue either way, but what’s the main thrust of the learning? In learning about scientific discoveries, for example, is it looking at them as a piece of history or is it about their importance going forward? Is science presented as a neat collection of what we already know, or is it shown to be a messy, inefficient process of trial and error where failures contribute to our knowledge?

Are we looking at Chaucer as part of our cultural heritage or as an example of the evolution of language? Yes, I suspect that most schools aren’t looking at Chaucer at all and that’s part of the point. How much of what we are asking people to learn has no relevance to the future?

Now I’m not saying that we should eliminate all attempts to enable students to have some sense of how our society developed, but I am suggesting that we may have to do some trimming to allow more time to consider where we’re heading and, importantly, where we want to head.

Whether you’re a teacher or a student, try the past/future categorisation for a few days.

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