Blindfolding Funds Of Knowledge: When Curriculum Cannot See Life-Worlds

Year: 2015

Author: Zipin, Lew

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

This paper emerges from an ARC Discovery project (DP120101492). Working with schools in Melbourne’s ‘low SES’ western suburbs, the project aimed to further Year 9/10 students’ capacities to aspire towards viable futures (Appadurai 2004; Zipin, Sellar, Brennan & Gale 2013). In one project school, a semester-long Year 10 subject was created by project researchers in collaboration with a classroom teacher. The design was: (1) for small student groups each to identify and research an issue of local community change which the group saw as mattering for their futures; and (2) for dialogue to occur across groups about likely, desirable and possible futures for students and their communities. A key intent was to elicit and make curricular use of cultural resources from the students’ life-worlds—their ‘funds of knowledge and identity’ (Gonzalez, Moll & Amanti, 2005; Zipin 2009, 2013; Moll 2014; Esteban-Guitart & Moll 2014)—as assets for building student capacities to research and to aspire.
In this class, I worked closely with a group of students concerned with questions of racism in the future of the suburb where their school was located, as this suburb gentrified (already well underway). These students were power-marginal in race and/or class terms, and ‘not academic’ in the school’s ways of seeing. Yet I found substantive evidence of capacities to read the present and imagine potential futures in complex ways, bringing their funds of knowledge to bear. However, these funds of knowledge and associated capacity required spaces of trust, which the author struggled to create, against grains of mainstream curriculum processes the students were habituated to expect, and that this experimental class could not bracket. Consequently, students’ imaginative use of their funds of knowledge emerged largely outside of school recognition. Indeed, they tended to avoid revealing their funds of knowledge within mainstream school time/space, which they saw as not ‘for them’; and their teacher could only manage sideways glances at manifest capacities that, in a different regime, I believe he would have liked to engage pedagogically. I argue that current policy exigencies acting upon schools make it increasingly harder for alternative curricular approaches to succeed in engaging student’s funds of knowledge. I conclude that there is critical need for more thoughtful educational policy that enables schools serving power-marginalised young people to see, and work with, their life-world assets for learning.