A Cuckoo in the Nest? Powerful Knowledge in English History Education Discourse

Joseph Smith, Darius Jackson

Abstract


‘Social Realism’ has long underpinned the dominant discourse in history education in England (Smith, 2017). Its commitment to ‘powerful’ disciplinary knowledge has enabled history educators to assert the unique contribution that their subject makes to a child’s education and fomented an apparent consensus about the aims and purposes of a history education.
In this paper, we argue that it is increasingly a consensus under strain. While the terms ‘powerful knowledge’ and ‘social realism’ are widely used by history educators, their overuse as rhetorical devices has weakened their precision and undermined some of their theoretical potency. We suggest that this has given rise to a split within social realist history educators between ‘Radical’ and ‘Traditional’ social realists. Both use the language of social realism and both subscribe to the theory’s epistemic underpinning, but disagree about the nature and significance of powerful knowledge.
These are wide-ranging context models which we intend to develop in more detail elsewhere. We here restrict our analysis to the theorisation of powerful knowledge in each.


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