27 May 2013

On knowing one's limits...

Last week my son called, seeking esoteric information about me. Do my ears have lobes?* What colour are my eyes? What's the term which describes my eyelids?**

Why? It's for my (step) grand-daughter's homework. On genetics. In primary school. Brilliant! I'm all for it.

Up to a point. As S and I discussed, since our son is not her biological father, it's all theoretical, and for once
that may be a Good Thing. And they didn't ask about blood group, thank goodness...

But. It's a minefield. How many primary school teachers (who are generalists--they teach children rather than subjects) are able to field questions about Mendelian genetics--particularly when they come from kids who begin to wonder about who they are? It's a Pandora's box.

My concern here is not really about transitory dissonances or the ethical issues (important though they are), but about teachers trying to teach things they themselves don't really understand. It's quite a courageous act to concede one's limitations, particularly in the face of children's expectations but with a required curriculum that may not be much of an option.

There are of course more and more topics like this, and there is no way teachers can keep up. The media fill the gaps, but often with scant regard for the accuracy or suitability of the information they put out, and with ever easier informal access to information, the authority of the teacher is undermined. That may well not be a Bad Thing--I was certainly taught a great deal of rubbish at school--but it calls for a re-think. Perhaps it is another push in the direction of a "new educational paradigm"; but even that can't be taken at face value.

*  "How long have you known me for?" I asked. Of course you don't register such things with your nearest and dearest...

** epicanthic fold. Actually it's wrong, because in my case the fold is at the outer end of the eye--most famously exhibited by SuperMac.  But it's good enough for present purposes...

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