People have always said that the role of teachers in society is being devalued. An interesting contemporary version of this accusation, however, is that teachers are being reduced to the status of ‘content delivery drones’. From what I can gather, the idea runs that, because there is a growing emphasis on knowledge in schools, teachers are becoming tools in a faceless process of knowledge transfer, from teachers to pupils.
This argument can of course be challenged on its own terms. In some ways I am a content deliverer, and I am proud of it. The content I ‘deliver’ to my pupils is a rich, complex and fascinating story of the human past, stuffed full of intrigue, tragedy, discovery and opportunity. ‘Delivering’ this content – by talking to my pupils, telling them stories, giving them things to read – is what I love most about my job. My colleagues in other subjects get to ‘deliver’ content on the movement of the planets, people and tectonic plates; they ‘deliver’ content on the structure of atoms, molecules and minerals; they ‘deliver’ content on human artistic expression, on the complexities of human belief and on the vocabulary with which humans communicate with one another.
If this is what it means to be a content delivery drone, then I stand up as one, for I am proud of the content that I deliver.
But the flip-side of the counter-argument is that those who call teachers ‘content delivery drones’ are, in reality, primarily interested in delivering content of a different form.
Perhaps that content is a set of generic transferable skills, such as ‘teamwork’, ‘creativity’ or ‘critical thinking’. Perhaps that content is ‘learning how to learn’, ‘metacognition’ or ‘mindfulness strategies’. Perhaps that content is ‘how to challenge hegemony and the symbolic violence inherent in the system’. Perhaps that content is ‘how to make sense of your everyday lived experience’. Unless teachers are nothing more than child-minders, they have to have some set of educative aim, and this means that they have to have some kind of content they want the children in their care to learn.
This is why debates about ‘should teachers be delivering content’ are so ludicrous: of course teachers are delivering content. We might decide to use a verb other than ‘delivery’ if we want to obsess over the means rather than end, but there has to be an end, and that end has to be expressed in terms of what we want pupils to learn. And this, of course, is where the greatest debates lay. We are not arguing over whether or not teachers ought to be delivering content: we are arguing over what that content ought to be.
Curriculum, in this way, is at the heart of everything.