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Humanities in primary schools

There's a Humanities 2020 campaign with a manifesto that begins:

Primary schools have a duty to equip children for the challenges of the 21st century. We believe that the primary school curriculum in England is failing to do this or to fulfil the legal requirement for a balanced and broadly-based curriculum. Literacy and numeracy dominate the curriculum while other vital aspects of learning are often ignored. This is wrong.

We want young children to be literate and numerate, but much more than that. We affirm that every child is entitled to rich, stimulating and engaging learning experiences. We want children to have more opportunities to be creative and to build on their sense of curiosity. We would like to bring more joy and imagination back into the classroom.

This is something I fully endorse. The major concern I have with the campaign is its conception of the humanities as History, Geography, Religious Education, and Citizenship. This is a subject selection which wouldn't have been strange a century ago, but now seems really odd. Anthropology/Sociology and Politics/Economics would seem a much more logical way to fill out a new "quadrivium", with the study of religion incorporated into the first and citizenship into the second. (This perhaps illustrates the strength of institutional inertia: there's no tradition of teaching anthropology, politics or economics in primary schools, so current teachers don't think about adding them.)

To see how bizarre this subject selection is, consider an analogous rendition of STEM as "Science, Technology, Aeronautics, and Geometry", with engineering and mathematics replaced by subdisciplines.

I'm also wary of including "Religious Education" rather than "Studies in Religion" or something like that. While studying religion would be a central part of any broad-based anthropology, any doctrinal instruction (if there has to be any in a school) needs to be kept entirely separate from the humanities curriculum.

And then there's the omission of languages... There really should be a Languages and Linguistics strand as well.

1 Comment »

  1. Never underestimate the necessity or motivation of educators aiming to teach children obedience and obeisance. In pursuit of that end, teaching history, geography, religious education and expectations of citizenship are all good subject matter that helps to indoctrinate people in their responsibility to the larger institutions that maintain order. What you suggest instead risks causing social disruption.

    Comment by anonymous coward — July 2019

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