Walking with Wolfgang Klafki (3)

By Sean Blenkinsop

For previous posts in this series see here and here.

On to Klafki’s question #2:

b)    What significance does the content in question or the experience, knowledge, ability, or skill to be acquired through this topic already possess in the minds of the children in my class? What significance should it have from a pedagogical point of view?

Several things worth thinking about here. First, yes, anyone involved in philosophy of education can hear Dewey’s influence. Second, there’s nothing wrong per se with Dewey—there is clearly a reaching towards a more progressive educational position here. Klafki wants us to both consider the child as knower and as experienced with regard to the topic at hand, but also ensure that content is relevant to the learner in their immediate context. Not super revolutionary stuff, but good to keep in mind as we are creating lessons and selecting content.

The second question is interesting, however, as it would appear that Klafki is not going full on child-centred education here. He wants the teacher to consider ‘significance’ separately from the first question, suggesting that not all experience, knowledge, ability, or skill are of equal value or import, educationally speaking. This move I think is interesting ’cause it keeps the teacher in the mix and presumably is asking the teacher to remember the aims from question one. That is, the implication or assumption is that some histories and relevances are more useful than others for particular goals. In the immediate thick of teaching, this parallels the decision-making processes around which “teachable moment” one chooses to grab and follow and which one lets slide.   

There are two big pieces that jump out at me immediately when I start thinking about ecologizing this question. The first, as you might have guessed, is to undercut the anthropocentrism of it all and consider carefully how to include not only the children and their skills, knowledges, abilities, histories, etc, but also the equivalents for the natural world. Yes, I know, sounds weird to think about the natural world having abilities or skills… but take a breath and ponder this a while. Better yet, do what I am doing right now and lie in a Eucalyptus grove while pondering. Here is a tree that has hundreds of variants (this one smells great by the way), so is immensely flexible in terms of adaptation but also incredibly skilled at fire response. When a burn goes through, all the leaves are taken, but these babies can sprout new branches and new leaves out of their trunks almost immediately after a conflagration… so cool and what a great skill, the ability to withstand and then respond to crisis. Not only that but they eat sunlight and transform air into their bodies!  What is that like, I ask you? Surely you know sun differently if you can eat it? 

Anyway, I encourage you muck around with this idea of all beings having knowledges. Watch your dog follow a scent trail if you don’t believe me, or how your cat manipulates you into doing whatever it wants for that matter. Then we can play with including these in the learning. And the second part of the question also leaves room for what is relevant to all-our-kin being considered in alongside the children.

The second recommendation I have draws from our social justice brothers and sisters. When questions of significance arise, the response is always … “for whom”, and who is doing the selecting. In the literature that interprets Klafki, significance tends to be interpreted in relation to the human (learner, teacher, community), and that of course misses out a giant group of beings. What happens to human teacherly decisions when we seek to include the natural world in these questions of significance? In asking that question as we are designing curriculum, it reminds us of the aims offered in response to question one. My sense is that this consideration of significance can have quite dramatic effects on the curricular decisions being made.

One last little note here has to do with relevance. This morning as we started out on the trail it began to rain. All of a sudden it became a relevant question where my rain-gear and pack-cover were, what the clouds were suggesting for how long this rain would last, and why I had packed so poorly that I needed to unload half my pack to find my rain pants. And then this afternoon… my legs started to hurt when we were stopping… and what we were planning for dinner became very relevant… but so too was my interest in these pink and orange bell-like lilies I was seeing, and the fields full of lupines (I assume as nitrogen fixing cover crop, but not sure… anybody?)… or why there are so many young men of South Asian origin in these tiny Portuguese villages?  My point here is that relevance is at least in part a product of context and current experiences. As educators we might want to consider which contexts for learning might be better or less suited to the skills, abilities, knowledges, experiences that are going to be useful to our students in the future—particularly in the future being posited by our aims.



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