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3 Replies to “C’ville Update”
The facts vs skills discussion seems strange to me. How can facts (or products) be divorced from skills (or processes)? I tend to come at teaching from the process side first because I notice that kids have no structured ways of learning. But once they have a process, they gobble up facts faster and better than ever.
Take the simple process of rereading when you don’t understand something. I spend a lot of time teaching this to kids because they’re not in the habit of doing it. As a result, they miss many facts. But when the process of rereading becomes a habit, they become significantly better consumers of information.
Even rote learning math facts requires a process of some kind. So I’m not sure how the idea of separating facts from the means of learning them got started. What I am sure of, is that the debate over the issue is a waste of time spent discussing an artificial distinction.
Even in E. D. Hirsch-style Core Knowledge schools, kids who focus on facts have to have ways of learning them. And the more efficient those ways are, the more facts kids can master. I’m sure Mr.Hirsch would gladly sanction any skill that helped 5th graders learn more about mummies and ancient Egypt.
The skills vs facts debate sounds like the old nature vs nurture debate. We now know that nature and nurture work together in concert to shape who we are. Similarly, skills and facts work together to shape learning. It’s not a competition, it’s a dance. So I think the problem must be that many of our teachers simply aren’t good dancers — or that many of our students can’t carry the tune.
This is a tough problem to overcome because we have been forced to focus on skills and tests for so long as teachers. However, I am challenged (gladly) to look at teaching in a new way because of how the world is changing. We need to be agile and adaptable just as the children need to be adaptable in the world around them. We need to present the big ideas in new ways if we want them to be engaged, and if we want them to succeed.
Once upon a time, when Rhetoric was not a bad word, rhetorical skills like discovery, invention, narration, and argumentation were what you taught students so that they themselves could find the “facts.” Then, in the 19th century, “progressive” education reform tagged rhetoric as mere words, and proceeded to teach the “facts” so that students would be able to apply them in the workplace.
This was a huge cultural shift, NECESSITATED by industrialization, and while we wouldn’t dare go back to teaching the Trivium and Quadrivium, we should look seriously at what the CCSSO and P21 Skills documents are saying about needing to learn how to teach students to develop or invent new knowledge.
As industrialization passes into historical memory, so too should our industrial approach to teaching. We have to admit that we really don’t know yet what the “facts” are for the new green information economy, so we need to teach today’s students the skills necessary to discover them. Training minds in quantitative scientific research coupled with an historically based ethic of inquiry and the rhetoric of presenting their conclusions, sounds to me like a good place to start.