Why Schools Don’t Overcome the Knowledge Deficit

Lincoln Park High School in Chicago, IL

Joy Pullmann has an excellent article published at The Federalist.  I wanted to highlight an excerpt dealing with the knowledge deficit.  She’s writes about “Six Lies Most People Believe About U.S. Schools.”  Lie #3 is this – “Schools should teach generic skills like ‘critical thinking’ and ‘real-world application.’”  Pullman writes:

So why don’t schools overcome the knowledge deficit? Because prevailing education theory, which has stood strong now for about half a century, preaches that children don’t need knowledge. They need skills that can apply to any knowledge.

For a selection of what this content-free philosophy sounds like, I looked at just two days worth of reporting on how schools are putting into place new national education goals called Common Core. It would “have students practice critical thinking, curiosity and creativity instead of merely memorizing content”; “It focuses on how deeply a student understands the content presented”; “The Common Core State Standards focus on key topics, allowing teachers to go much deeper, with an emphasis on real world skills like collaboration, communication and critical thinking.” The standards are said to teach children “how to apply what they’ve learned to real life… ‘It’s skills now, not just content. It’s not just rote memory anymore.’” In all the reporting on Common Core, no contrary examples were reported.

Doesn’t it sound good? No more rotten memorization! Just living, breathing, real-world skills! Unfortunately, as Hirsch shows, there are no skills that apply to any knowledge indiscriminately. Believing that, however plausible it sounds, is the intellectual equivalent of asking a carpenter to apply his chiseling skills to gardening, or horseback riding. Knowledge acquisition must be systematic and focused, and requires memory. You cannot have great reading skill that applies equally to a passage about the Civil War and to one about the lifecycle of amoebae. Your ability to read and understand any given passage depends on your background knowledge about the subject. In short, you cannot be a critical thinker without anything to think with or about. (emphasis mine)

Be sure to read the whole thing.

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