Education for Sustainability/The Sabre Tooth Tiger Curriculum

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This story comes from Stuart Hall and Paddy Whannel’s Book, The Popular Arts.

Once upon a time, there was a tribe that lived contently and prosperously in a remote valley. They had an established way of life and had developed many great skills, but the two they valued most were the techniques of fishing in clear fast-running streams and of hunting their most feared predator, the sabre tooth tiger. So of course, these skills were always taught to the children of the tribe.

However, the centuries passed and the climate began to change. Winter became longer and the great ice –sheets advanced towards the valley. There was snow on the hills all year round and the streams became cold and muddy. The sabre tooth tiger retreated south and the tribe was increasingly attacked by polar bears. The tribe coped with theses changes of course, because they were ingenious and persevering, but the ancient techniques were sill being taught to the children of the tribe. A pool was created so that they could learn how to catch fish in clear water, and a stuffed tigers head was used to teach them the techniques of killing it with one spear-thrust.

One day, a group of younger tribes people approached the tribal council . We’ve been thinking, they said. Why do we go on teaching the children these old fashioned skills? None of us had ever seen a clear stream, or a sabre-tooth tiger. Surely we ought to be teaching the children how to fish in muddy streams and how to hunt polar bears? The tribal council were mightily offended. We have always taught our children these skills, they said. They are the classical disciplines. And in any case you must realise that change is impossible, because, as you well know, the curriculum is already overcrowded.