Common sense, as well as research evidence, tells us that children cannot be taught to think without at the same time being asked to commit a substantial store of facts to their long-term memories.
But that doesn’t help us when it comes to deciding what facts to teach. Why the “best and most important work in both the humanities and the sciences”? And who is to say what the “best” or “most important” is? Doesn’t this involve making contentious value judgements?
When it comes to the sciences, the answer is fairly straightforward. The “best” and “most important” simply mean those facts and theories that are at present verified by evidence and by our current state of knowledge, and demonstrably exert an influence on our lives and the world around us. Why teach, in our science curriculum, the Theory of Evolution and not Creationism? Because we have good scientific reasons for thinking it is true and important. On the other hand, in some other part of our curriculum, we should inform children that there are people who believe in Creationism, for that is also a demonstrable and important fact about the world and our society.
'A classical liberal education should not confine itself to the Western canon, but should embrace other cultures and traditions'
The humanities are more controversial. Why teach Jane Austen and not Alice Walker or any number of other first-rate authors? Why devote more time to studying the Bible than the Koran? Why prioritize the history of the British Isles? To a large extent, these are not either/or questions. A classical liberal education should not confine itself to the Western canon, but should embrace other cultures and traditions. Nevertheless, the guiding principle should be to teach children that sub-set of knowledge – and the accompanying vocabulary – that will maximize their chances of leading rich and fulfilling lives. What that sub-set includes will be subject to review, but will always be closely connected to the history and the present nature of the society in which we live, including our international connections.
We believe the main focus of our curriculum should be on that common body of knowledge that, until recently, all schools were expected to teach. This is the background knowledge taken for granted by writers who address the intellectually engaged layman – the shared frames of reference for public discourse in modern liberal democracies. Sometimes referred to as “intellectual capital”, at other times as “cultural literacy”, this storehouse of general knowledge will enable all our pupils to grow to their full stature. Passing on this knowledge, as well as the ability to use it wisely, is what we mean by a classical liberal education.
Primary Knowledge Curriculum
The Knowledge Schools Trust’s Primary Knowledge Curriculum is firmly embedded in all of our primary schools. It is a carefully sequenced, knowledge-rich curriculum which aims to inspire pupils and promote excellent outcomes for all.
The curriculum content has been carefully chosen by subject experts and is organised in a coherent way, ensuring children can build on their knowledge from year to year. In this way, the knowledge in the curriculum is cumulative, constructing firm foundations from which children can progress and develop deeper conceptual understanding and subject-specific skills over time.
Curriculum coherence ensures that teaching does not jump from topic to topic, but enables children to develop knowledge over time, as well as a love of subjects. Subject content is crucial to this approach- the rich content of the curriculum inspires children and plants the seeds for a lifetime of learning.
Find out more about the Primary Knowledge Curriculum here.