28 June 2013

The Agenda on "Knowing in Common"

I was on The Agenda with Steve Paikin yesterday reflecting on the question of what do we need to know in common in order to fully participate as citizens in both our country and our world? As The Agenda episode tag says, "Much emphasis is placed today on keeping students engaged by allowing them to follow their interests. How will that affect the viability of a common curriculum in schools increasingly reshaped by the internet?"
By the way, here's my top five list of what we need to know by the end of high school in a reimagined curriculum. I am assuming basic literacy and numeracy, of course, plus the skills of written and oral expression, the ability to write a cogent argument and engage in thoughtful dialogue about its merits, context, meaning, and applicability. So, let's call these five basic skills:
  1. A working knowledge of physical and chemical science - the fundamental processes of how stuff exists, interacts, and transforms in the natural and built world. This covers matter from the very small (quantum) to the very large (cosmological),
  2. A working knowledge of biological and ecological science - the fundamental processes of how we (and other creatures) physically exist, operate, interact (on a material basis) and transform. Among the ideas here are to gain an appreciation for natural, organic balance for individual health and the health of the natural environment.
  3. A working knowledge of the history of the four major inhabited continents, North and South America, Europe, and Austral-Asia. Among the intentions here is the notion to study history in parallel rather than linearly, so that, for instance, the War of 1812 in North America is understood in the contexts of the war between England and France, the effects on First Nations, as well as the typical context of (Upper and Lower) Canada and the US. Understanding that places other than North America and Europe actually have history that affect and contextualize current global events has been long overlooked.
  4. A working knowledge of the cultural production of the four major inhabited continents, including literature, music, and visual/material arts, plus the ability to produce same (including music).
  5. A working knowledge of the fundamental philosophies that have informed human history, including the Abrahamic religions, Buddhism, Hinduism, the various African beliefs and philosophies, plus a selection of some of the more influential philosophers' work from the four continents. The idea here is to gain an appreciation of how various cultures approach questions such as: How did we get here? Why are we here? and How should we be in the world?