considering the whole picture: bloom’s taxonomy redux, part 2

in this post i’d like to lay out some things for your consideration. they’re the things i’m turning over in my head too, in an attempt to understand the taxonomy better by putting it into perspective.\

first of all, bloom says the cognitive domain was “where most of the work in curriculum development has happened and the clearest definitions of objectives are to be found phrased as descriptions of student behaviour”.

he was also talking of his extensive research of objectives as framed for school and college education contexts.

my first question is, do we still necessarily frame objectives in the same manner, or do we rather tend now to frame objectives in terms of what a learner has to know? i.e., in terms of the content topics first and then to what level the learner must “know” these topics?

next, the handbook was published in 1956. that matters, a lot.

bloom was talking of america in 1956. fine, let’s consider then mainly how that very country has changed since then, with a sideways glance at our contexts. the taxonomy was based on analysis of the objectives set in formal education as it was conducted up to 1956. the civil rights movement peaked from the ’60s to the ’80s to demand the end of racism and segregation and to demand equal rights.

america was in a post-depression society, where the influence of the government in everyday life was pretty strong. in the 50s and 60s, women began to enter the workforce. the internet was invented in 1989… we’re talking of a world before the internetz! (the source code for the WWW was shared in 1993). really picture this world. TVs had just started appearing in homes. it was before the beatles, rolling stones, the woodstock generation and bob dylan. it was america before there was a man on the moon and before the cold war. concern about environmental education started after rachel carson’s silent spring.

society was up to then very much white and male dominated. it was authoritarian. the notions of the role of education to liberate everyday people in their everyday lives was not the common perspective. this was a world before all that. teaching to transgress (by bell hooks) was written in 1994, even paulo friere wrote the pedagogy of the oppressed only by 1969. the classroom looked like wooden benches and chairs, teachers threw chalk pieces at disruptive children, hit them on the knuckles with rulers and gave “lines” for indiscipline. we knew then what professions and problems we were teaching children to deal with as adults. there were fairly stable bodies and fields of knowledge and nowhere near the level of overwhelmingly fast paced change and complexity there is now even in children’s lives. it was a time when evidently (going by examples in the book) schools bothered setting curriculum objectives like to teach the kids to cope with modern life, and to be good citizens.

that classroom culture… blackboards, chalks, it’s familiar to us. we’ve always had trends come to us only after the us and uk and europe, right? and almost a decade after. the internet speeds up some stuff, but a lot of cultural things-slowly. but still, despite the familiarity of that scene, think about our world.

it was shortly after we gained independence. it was before liberalisation and before our classrooms were corporatised. it was before political parties started grabbing the chance to use textbooks as autobiographies. it was before the internet and gmail and std/isd booths on every street corner (can i stress this enough?!). it was before the world bank or imf started dictating what our national priorities should be, before the dot com bubble or before we had computers in our homes and offices.

and yet we treat this piece of work like it has been written in contemporary times, stripped of any association with a specific culture, time and place in history. as preceding or following any major events. as though it was created in a vacuum and continues to function exactly so because our work too happens in a vacuum stripped of context or chronology. look at how much we know or how much of what we know has changed with regard to education, power dynamics in society, politics, how the mind works or even who is a student or teacher any more.

and while there’s all this to think of in terms of change, there’s also this: we still don’t have a singular definition of what it is to learn, or to know. there are multiple definitions. we still haven’t defined the term ‘attention’ any better than it was in 1890 by william james.

i’m not saying throw out the taxonomy because it’s old. i’m saying, maybe we must better study and understand where the thinking was coming from and what it was based on, to know what still holds for today and now, and what’s no longer true.