Views of students
Enquiring Minds assumes that students possess valuable knowledge and ideas that they are able to bring into the classroom. Enquiring Minds looks to build upon young people’s experiences, ideas, interests and knowledge.
This perspective is based upon significant research in recent decades which has emphasised the importance of schools recognising the cultural experiences of the students they serve. There has been particular focus on young people’s experiences and uses of new media and digital technologies outside school, alongside arguments that these are powerful resources, tools and environments for learning informally. Much of this work is oriented around the understanding that young people are active consumers of culture, including the local youth cultures to which they may belong as well as the more wide-ranging media cultures that are accessed via the television, magazines and computers. In short, this work recognises that the informal curriculum taught through media and leisure co-exists (and may sometimes compete) with the formal curriculum of schools1.
Many commentators have suggested that media corporations have figured out their own ‘pedagogies’ and become modern society’s best teachers. The corporate curriculum of consumer culture has, in turn, become a yardstick against which the school curriculum and its associated pedagogies are assessed. For example, teachers have increasingly been pressured to embrace new technologies, to make lessons more fun, and to improve the slickness of their presentations2. Some people consider this a very good thing: evidence of schools catching up with the demands of their young consumers. However, consumer-media culture teaches particular sorts of knowledge, and these are based on affective pleasures rather than the more reflexive pleasures of knowing about and being able to interpret the world. Being a media consumer is one thing; being an informed and critical consumer is another. What we are getting at is that students do possess meaningful knowledge and this need to be accompanied by the capacity to interpret that knowledge, to identify its origins and its modes of production, and to be able to identify its potential consequences. This does not just mean being able to critique media and consumer outlets, but having the capacity to question all the forms of knowledge they encounter.
Another key framework which informs the thinking behind Enquiring Minds is the ‘student voice’ agenda, which argues that students should be involved in all aspects of school life. In a limited form, this can refer to students’ involvement in staff appointments or as respondents to ‘learner surveys’. This approach draws upon the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and a commitment to consulting young people on decisions about matters which affect them. While student voice work is beginning to make headway in a range of areas of school life, it is more challenging for schools to adopt approaches to student voice which enable students to negotiate with teachers the direction, content and processes of their learning, and to make significant inputs to organisational decision-making3.
The key to both of these perspectives is the recognition that students possess certain sorts of knowledge and skills that often go unrecognised and unvalued by schools. At school, it is rare for students to possess any decision-making authority, and their own experiences and knowledge are subordinated to the standardised knowledge base of the curriculum. Young people, depending on their backgrounds, aspirations and past educational experiences, are more or less attuned to the values schools possess, and therefore more or less likely to accept the position that schools put them in as compliant learners.
Rather than seeing students as on the receiving end of curricular knowledge mediated by teachers, such views regard good teaching to be taking place when students are involved in important issues, real-life experiences and the problems of living, when they are actively involved in doing things rather than watching, when they are questioning common-sense and widely-held assumptions, including their own feelings and beliefs, and when they are involved in planning what they do and what outcomes they produce. Of course, making changes along these lines depends on good relationships being fostered between schools and students. Such relationships rely on students feeling they can trust schools to produce conditions in which meaningful and relevant learning activities can occur.