In one of her blog posts, Christine Counsell argued that the curriculum “is at once a thing of beauty and of utility, and both matter. More like the waterways of Venice than a set of roads or paths, it needs specialist maintenance or it won’t take you where you want to go, nor make it a rewarding experience. Moreover, like Venice, its waters don’t stand alone. If you don’t understand the relationship of knowledge in the curriculum to the wider oceans and rains of knowledge that renew or trouble it, you’re liable to flood or drought.”
This idea of “the relationship of knowledge in the curriculum to the wider oceans and rains of knowledge” is important. In one of his wonderful books about education – Beauty for Truth’s Sake – Stratford Caldecott wrote this: “The fragmentation of education into disciplines teaches us that the world is made of bits we can use and consume as we choose. This fragmentation is a denial of ultimate meaning. Contemporary education therefore tends to the elimination of meaning—except in the sense of a meaning that we impose by force upon the world.”
I have taught English in plenty of schools without knowing what my pupils were learning in History lessons. And I have taught History without knowing what they were learning in English (let alone in Geography, Science, or Art). So maybe, one of our first tasks is to find out, to break free of our narrow subject specialisms, to look for links between disciplines, not to feel we are trespassing on someone else’s territory if asked a question that is not just off curriculum but off subject.
But we can go further. We can restore relationships between aspects of knowledge and piece together what has been fragmented. We can design our curricula to emphasise the relationships. One approach that I tried was to create a map that emphasised connections, using the Tube map as an inspiration.
What we have here are the Science Line, the Philosophy Line, the Mathematics Line, the Languages Line, the Literature Line, the Arts & Humanities Line, and the Current Affairs Line, but the whole point is that they intersect. There are connections. The map suggests that there are different ways of getting to the same destination. We can still appreciate Kew Gardens if our scientific knowledge is incomplete, just as we can still get to King’s Cross if the Victoria Line is closed.
Now the map isn’t perfect. I think we could do more to emphasise the connections, but I am pleased with some of the jokes.
The Current Affairs Line is under construction (and if Bank is a stop then surely we need the West Bank too).
As an English teacher, I always find that spelling is a problem, and as for apostrophes… Is it St James’s Park or St James’ Park? And if we have Watford Junction, surely we need Whichford Junction too. Which reminds me of another joke. Who led the Pedants’ Revolt? Which Tyler. But my favourite joke is on the Philosophy Line. After the glories of Augustine and Aquinas we have the dead end of Cartesian dualism.