Knowledge or skill

I’m doing some work writing about a new art curriculum in Saudi Arabia and at the same time reflecting on the implications of the publication of a new Ofsted Research Paper about UK art education. The paper is rather impenetrable and probably not fit for purpose as a consequence – because teachers, and me, can’t easily understand it. But it states that it is now for teachers to make choices and decide upon the curriculum that they feel is best for their students. Until fairly recently these matters were laid down in the UK National Curriculum for Art. That teachers have a choice is a good thing, but it is quite a few decades since these matters of educational philosophy were discussed in many school art rooms.

For me it has meant going back and rummaging in old archives, dusty hard drives and rereading once familiar old books about educational philosophies. One by Maurice Barrett was the first book about Art Education I had read and which inspired me for much of my career. He was writing in 1979 about the choices that teachers could make as they developed their curriculum. (Art Education: A Strategy for Course Design) It was subsequently rather subsumed by the National Curriculum orthodoxy that followed. But today it once more has a relevance as art teachers are again being required to make choices and justify them.

In the middle of this reflection and revision of theories I found myself sitting by the fire with my granddaughter. I was working on a spoon and she crocheting a bikini top. Both of us untaught in these media and both making a similar, shallow concave shape – just intuitively using our fingers to feel and tease the shape into existence.

A few days earlier I had been reading about, and discussing with an old friend, concepts of ‘powerful knowledge . I was uncomfortable with the notion of having to refer to everything as some sort of ‘knowledge’ as the Ofsted report suggests. I think what Erin and I were doing was some sort of sensate response to materials and the qualities of form, shape and texture: possibly function as well. I don’t know if there is a metaphor for curriculum purpose and content in art here. But it seemed a curious and unusual alignment of ideas and questions about making, skills and purposes in art education.