Sssh…it’s the ‘s’ word

What did you say? Your subject is English? Tsk, tsk. Don’t you know we not allowed to say ‘subject’ now? How very siloed and partisan of you. ‘Subject’ is now a forbidden word, something only to be whispered when no-one can hear you. For now we live in the days of cross-curricular, integrated learning in which the Key Competencies are king, and studying your favourite ‘subject’ has been relegated to the dusty halls of the past. Three raps on the knuckles….

Clearly, I’m being facetious, but it’s an interesting idea to toy with. A recent talk from the MoE reps involved in Schools Plus looked at the way schools, among a plethora of ‘solutions’, could timetable more creatively, and break down the barriers created by ‘subject areas’. One speaker actually chastised himself, mid-flow, for using the dreaded ‘s’ word.

I found this intriguing. It’s as if, just by saying (or not saying) something, just by giving a concept voice, it will happen, emerge blinking into the light, fully formed and breathing. The implication is that, if we talk about our ‘subjects’ as secondary level, we will automatically be shutting ourselves off from a more integrated world, in which pedagogy and shared learning are crucial.

I don’t disagree with the concept of integrated learning – in fact, I’m often actively pushing for it in conversations with schools. What puzzles me, however, is when people make comments like, “We shouldn’t use the word ‘subject’ anymore,” as though that will somehow offer a verbal band-aid to the issues of dis-engaged students and NZ’s ‘long tail’.

It is exactly this idea – that somehow, knowledge has been sidelined in the favour of process (this resonates with Mary Chamberlain’s unfortunately-misinterpreted comment made last year about students as ‘little knowledge banks’) – that will ensure that it is the teachers, not the students, who will dis-engage from the MoE’s, very important, messages.

So let that be a (integrated) lesson to you…

One thought on “Sssh…it’s the ‘s’ word

  1. I’ve taught quite a few subjects in my time but I don’t think that’s there’s anything wrong at all with the ‘S’ word. We need to respect that teachers have specialist knowledge of certain subjects.


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