On the Mastery of Content A

An ongoing debate within our profession has long been over the importance of content mastery. I have often heard a professor complain about how little most of his students knew of his chosen field, how he had learned Latin at least, but these days . . . nobody reads any more, etc. etc. Variations on the theme extol the virtues of rigorous study and academic discipline. 

 But the entire discussion is severely complicated by the gathering of a lot of different considerations under one roof. For one thing the areas of possible study have expanded dramatically since Plato put a number of them together in his academy. 

For the most part we have followed his suggestions at the secondary level instead of radically expanding the possible options. Social science for example had no obvious place with history and geography. Basic health care, diet and sustainable sports were an odd annex to Gym. Few would want to group Economics in an international capitalist world, or even practical economics (on-line checking, looking for scholarships, credit card sanity, filing taxes, and dealing with college debt) into home economics and its mid-20th century modules on sewing, clothes making and cooking. 

There has been an explosion of information that has occurred in the past decade or two with the aid of a faster and wider world communication system. Everyone is aware of this but the question is how will the information age as Foucault put it change the categories we use in our schooling processes. 

 The changes that new tools and the relevance of mastering them have brought, raises another series of considerations. Here the “coolness” of generation next has already reduced reliance on books and pencils, altered spelling and the need for bees (the other kind), integrated images and sounds into print media and shortly will utterly alter how the spoken word will get onto or off of the page. 

Now imagine that many students will live for 100 years and be employed for 50. Consider that the Tofflers (Heidi and Alvin) were right when they asserted some decades ago that modern workers will hold many part-time jobs and several temporary ones as well, unlike the career path and single employers of yesteryear. Now consider that most of us will be responsible for parenting and/or teaching essential skills to other persons growing up. 

So let’s face the idea squarely. What really is essential content in the modern age? This isn’t an easy question. Nationally we have called it THE CORE. But for now, let’s try it as an exercise. If you wanted to design a basic series of essentials for living today, what would you include? Now ask five other people being alert to span many generations and see what you get. 

Teacher’s Workbook: Arbitrarily try for ten suggestions. Write them down as prospective course or unit titles you would like to teach.

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