The Propagation of Learning Part 5

Written by Paul Henderson. This is the fifth of six instalments of Paul’s Think Piece. If you missed previous parts you can locate them in the back copies of e-briefings on our main website

Subject boundary and timetable learning barriers.  The way physics as a subject has evolved is interesting in itself. It initially began in Ancient Greek times when a philosopher would contemplate all areas of important thinking. These subsequently evolved and branched off into subjects we know today such as Law, Medicine, Theology, Philosophy, Science, Art and Aesthetics etc and up until relatively recently Physics was known as natural philosophy. The people who actually do such subjects have always resisted the process of packaging them for mass academic study and to this day top university research scientists and academics usually treat the token lecturing that they are contractually obliged to do with disdain. In order to package an area of knowledge for mass studying there has to be an agreement on content and level. When it comes to agreeing on content, all the facts and concepts are compiled and listed and then presented in a way that the learner can accumulate. Because of strict subject boundaries, many concepts are included purely for the sake of theoretical completeness and are almost never used purposefully. They have to be learned by all students of the subject regardless of their lack of general usefulness. The problem with having strict subject boundaries is that, when one concept is dependant on a previous one, relevant but not subject related intervening steps are often omitted. Students frequently learn material that they will never use and omit studying non-subject material that would enhance their understanding. This gives a disjointed feel to learning. When it comes to level, the concepts, facts and findings become more diluted or omitted the lower the level of study, resulting in the learner’s first experience of a topic or subject being a diluted out of context conglomeration of disassociated facts, findings and concepts. The ‘ready meal’ rules of mass production then take over and a glossy new text book is produced for distribution in schools to support a committee formulated ‘broad and balanced’ curriculum, then taught from by a teacher who has to doggedly stick to the content, irrespective of his or her own subject knowledge or lack of it, because to deviate from it would mess up the strictly timetabled exam preparation, throwing a spanner in the works of the entire system of which they are only one tiny cog. This committee formulated mass production approach also affects the study of mathematics and any science and technology based subject, the learning of which (in schools) does not involve artistic or aesthetic judgement. For school activities such as creative writing or visual art you might think the learning to do is more in line with the doing in the real world. Lets face it painting in a well lit school art department can’t be much different from painting in a professional artists studio, however the problem with anything artistic is that it requires inspiration. A rigid timetable puts the brakes on any form of creative thought. At 10am on a Tuesday you and your 30 noisy classmates will be inspired to write a poem that will take exactly 55 minutes to write. At 1.55pm on a Wednesday you will be put into groups of four, allocated a computer and be inspired to collectively create CD artwork that takes exactly 50 minutes to produce despite being absent the week you were shown how to operate the software. At 11.05am on a Thursday you will be inspired to compose an original piece of music on a guitar that still has a piece of snot dangling precariously between two strings because its previous flu infested user would wipe his nose with his finger between strums (neither his mum nor dad could take time off work to nurse him so unless he needs hospitalised he goes to school). This will take you exactly 55 minutes to write and record, either on the schools old overused and partially functioning cassette recorder or on one of their many brand new shiny digital machines that no one knows how to operate. Absurd? Of course, but that’s the way it is done in school at present. If anything is going to kill off any form of creative inspiration it’s school timetables and resources.

About the author

Comments are closed.

Powered by WordPress | Two Thirds Design