Educational Navel Gazing: A Study

What exactly is ‘sequencing the curriculum’? And why are teachers expected to do it? The Humanities have been around for donkey’s years. So why haven’t they done it already?

‘Look, Sam,’ says Miss Blunderbuss. ‘If Ofsted pop by and ask for the scheme of learning, what am I going to say to them?’

‘Say you’ve got your scheme of learning right here,’ I reply, holding the AQA Geography textbook proudly aloft. ‘Look, it’s got a lovely little sequence. Chapter 1: Natural Hazards. Chapter 2: Tectonic Hazards. Chapter 3: Weather –’

‘OK, Sam,’ she says. ‘But where’s our scheme of learning?’

I’m honestly confused. Textbooks have a proud history. Why do people in the comprehensive sector hate them so much? Speaking of donkey’s years, my Head of History’s coming up with all sorts of asinine chronologies.

‘We’re going to teach the Cold War first, because that’s the most difficult. Then we go back to King Henry.’

‘No way,’ says Mr Bickersby. ‘Cold War is Change and Continuity, so it needs to come after Henry, which more rightly belongs in Causation.’

Sigh. Isn’t all history change and continuity? How could a topic fail to tick off causation? Maybe we should go back to the beginning of time. At the dawn of the universe, where infinite space was then bound in a nutshell and God hadn’t even set pen to paper yet. ‘Not “Once upon a time”, not “Once upon a time,”’ his forehead beading with sweat, ‘– aha! “In the beginning”. That’s much better.’  But even such procrastinations would lie an infinite number of years ahead. Because I’m talking about the Land Before Time. No, not that crappy dinosaur movie. I mean a place where I wouldn’t have to hear the words ‘change and continuity’ ever again. I wouldn’t be able to hear anything, in fact. There would be an infinite black vastness stretching out in every direction. And Khrushchev banging his shoe on the rostrum would be little more than a cheeky glimmer in this history teacher’s eye.

Let’s remember: if we’re trying to fit topics or questions into Column A for Causation and Column B for Not-Causation, we might also pencil in a few minutes of PPA to reflect on the fatuity of this enterprise. What are we even teaching as history teachers: nuclear weapons or the Big Bang Theory?

Furthermore, the debates surrounding which topics to teach have me feeling like Buridan’s Ass. Basically, there’s a donkey between two hay stacks. It can’t decide which to eat and it starves to death. No, I don’t get it either. The point is: just pick a hay stack and go with it. Meanwhile, the curriculum debates aren’t even as simple as that. God willing, I should love having the option of starving to death rather than sitting through an all-day Teams meeting about whether the philanderings of the Bluff King Harry more rightly belong in Strands 1, 2, or 3 of the Edexcel schemes. Whatever pin got lost in this haystack almost certainly had angels dancing on the head of it. But maybe we’re getting closer to the truth because, as I’m sat here saying nothing… I’m feeling something more than a slight prick.

These debates remind me of a friend of mine. And also a book I once read. This friend was stuck in a job he couldn’t stand. He was almost as bad as that bloody donkey, since although the mule was indecisive it probably wasn’t colourblind when it came to the grass on the other side. This guy would never accept that his life might be better in another role. So, I recommended So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport. 

The thesis of the book is that we shouldn’t sit around navel gazing about be our optimal career path. ‘Well, I’m a Pisces, y’see – the most ancient star sign. I have an ethereal nature so I feel I ought to become an Occupational Therapist. Playdough Mood Modelling really is the way forward.’ I’ve had other friends who want to become romance novelists. ‘Do you have any idea how saturated the fiction market is?’ I ask them.  You can barely search for books on ‘Constructive Dismissal’ without approximately 6,702 results of shirtless ‘bad-boy’ Teaching Union representatives, chains draping inexplicably about their shoulders. And what about my own job? When I first started, I fucking hated it. But I stuck with it, improved gradually over time, and I now love it even more than those pink wafer cookies you get down the Heron Foods.

The same is true of subject content. Who gives a fuck what river we’re learning about? And look, I find the Tudors boring, OK. Like yeah, they found King Henry VIII under some car park – so what? The point is, I’ve never bothered learn about the fascinating depositional landforms created around shopping trolleys on the River Sowe, or how there’s so much more to Bloody Mary than being the Queen… and then getting beheaded… and then somehow coming back as the Queen of Scotland.

If I knew what I was talking about, maybe I’d find it more interesting, y’know? And maybe this would apply to any topic. So, perhaps it doesn’t matter what we actually teach, providing it is in some sense canonical. I wouldn’t be able to help Buridan’s donkey with its eating disorder. But providing it ever did get any sustenance, I could help it with what comes out of the other end.

Shit, or get off the pot.

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