The Disciplined Incoherence of Footnote 57

11th February 2012

On page 24 the downgrading is explained as being a consequence of Citizenship, D&T and ICT lacking ‘sufficient disciplinary coherence’. A footnote attempts an explanation for this statement.  It says:

“Implicit in this judgement is a view of disciplinary knowledge as a distinct way of investigating,knowing and making sense with particular foci, procedures and theories, reflecting both cumulative understanding and powerful ways of engaging with the future. In this sense, disciplinary knowledge offers core foundations for education, from which the subjects of the curriculum are derived. Some very worthwhile areas of learning apply such knowledge in particular ways or foreground particular areas of skill or competence – but have weaker epistemological roots. Our judgement about possible reclassification is based on the balance of advantage, given the need to reduce prescription in the National Curriculum”

If you need to read that again I won’t blame you.  I read it three times before I began to understand.  It’s now a day later and I’m still not certain I understand.

So far the clearest version I have is this: Subjects examine specific knowlege and provide skills that can be used to ‘know’ things in the future.  Some current subjects are really only ‘areas of learning’ because while a person studying them might examine a useful topic or skill these learning areas have ‘weaker epistemological roots’.  Therefore it is better if we downgrade these subjects.

The problem here is that I’m not at all clear about the meaning of the term ‘weaker epistemological roots’, why it is only being applied to three subjects and how it links to incoherence.   I’m sure the Expert Panel have good, specific reasons for making this judgement, but I wish they had written them in a manner that made it clear because I have kept re-reading that paragraph for 24 hours and I’m still no wiser about what their good, specific reasons are.

From my rusty knowledge of philosophy I remember that ‘epistemology’ asks: “How do we know what we know?”  Maths, Science, perhaps History would be considered to have strong ‘epistemological roots’.  But subjects such as Art and Music are grounded in the ‘Esthetic’, study that asks “How can life be?”  Should we downgrade these subjects because they are not epistemological in root?  The answer is ‘no’ because the Expert Panel agree that a variety of knowledge and skills are important for young people.  It is important then that we also consider two other branches of philosophy considered at least equivalent to Esthetics in importance – one is ‘Politics’ and the other is ‘Ethics’.  The first asks the question “What actions are permissible?” and the second asks “What should I do?” These are exactly the topics examined in Citizenship. The disciplines of Politics and Ethics are certainly considered coherent by the Russell Group tutors teaching them to hundreds of undergraduates each year.  Hence, is ‘Citizenship’ epistemologically weak?  Yes, so far as Art, Music, English Literature or Geography can also be considered to be so.  Does this weakness lead to Citizenship lacking ‘sufficient coherence’?  Not at all, it examines the traditional coherent strands of philosophy just as much as science or history.

Design Tech & ICT are given additional reasons for the downgrading of their subject which can be debated.  Citizenship is not.  The subject is purely discounted on the case of Footnote 57 and unless anyone can explain some logic I have missed – and that is entirely possible – I will not be able to shake the feeling that Footnote 57 is itself a form of disciplined incoherence, a type that Gove typically denounces as ‘ideology’.