Useful and interesting

7th November 2003 at 00:00
I hesitate to take issue with my former boss but Douglas Osler was wrong when he wrote last week that the Munn modes "never had an intellectually respectable rationale". The rationale can be found in the work of "the London school" of educational philosophy in the 1960s, especially Paul Hirst's "forms and fields of knowledge". The rationale may be challenged, but it existed.

Mr Osler's own views on a compulsory core of English, numeracy, sciences, computing, PE and history are open to challenge in a number of ways. First, he bases his justification on what is "useful". But usefulness is only one criterion for a curriculum which is to interest and motivate all pupils.

The sciences may indeed be useful, but it does not follow that pupils will immediately see the relevance and usefulness of what they do under the guise of the separate sciences. In any case, isn't it technology which is useful and science which is valid as knowledge for its own sake?

As a historian, Mr Osler readily sees the usefulness of history and includes it in his compulsory core. But every other subject specialist could advance similar claims, and surely history has been as responsible as any other subject for disaffection by boredom.

As a general principle can I suggest that whatever we teach pupils should be either useful or interesting, preferably both but certainly not neither.

Personally, I have some sympathy with George Crumley's views (Morris Simpson's School diary, same issue): "Not another curriculum review."

Allan Hawke Craiglockhart Road Edinburgh

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