By Edmund Connolly, on 17 July 2014
The Petrie regularly plays host to 80+ Primary School students a week who arrive at the museum armed with worksheets and pencils in various stages of consumption. During the closing Q&A’s I often worry for my teaching prowess as I endure the same question again and again from 5 or more little upturned faces, wondering what have I done wrong, why aren’t they remembering anything?
Then I had a revelation. I heard a teacher explain to a questioning infant: “Just ask the archaeologist, he’ll know”. And from this little attitude shift I think there is a problem with museum based education: child learners are not encouraged to actually research alone, if they don’t know an answer they ask. The merit system of house points, gold stars and ‘grade points’ means they are so desperate for a correct answer the method is flung aside in lieu of the desperate seek for affirmation that they are correct. One school even rewarded children just for asking a question with no logic or reason behind it.
This structure really undermines the principles of Independent learning (lengthy definition of which is here). The child is no longer expected to read a label, open a book or even search online, they need to get a quick and cheap answer; ask the archaeologist.
I have nothing against asking questions, it is the fundamental of HE teaching, but at KS2 when children are learning life and research skills asking a person who has that knowledge seems a bit of cop-out. These sessions aren’t just about learning Hatshepsut’s name or the meaning of sarcophagus, but the idea of exploring and self-guided learning.
At school, I remember producing a very blobbily glued report on the Aztecs, as far as I am aware my teacher had no knowledge whatsoever about the Aztecs, and I certainly didn’t. Instead I sat myself down with an Encyclopaedia the size of my torso and penned my persuasive paragraph on why a Jaguar Warrior was a scrupulous career choice.
This tome is probably on some bookshelf somewhere behind a photo of the dog, I am certain the facts were sketchy and the diagrams even more questionable, but what my teacher taught me to do was research. I worry this generation of Archaeologist-Askers will never be able self-guide and learn. Given the glorious age of information we now live in with facts and theories available at the click of a button it seems ludicrous that any child cannot conduct any research.
I say don’t ask the archaeologist! Come to the archaeologist and tell them something you know, and they will be far happier for knowing you have learnt a skill that will go with you always, rather than a fact that’ll be forgotten the moment lunch is mentioned.
Edmund Connolly is the Finance and Course Manager for the British Council – UCL Museum Training School