Credit to Eduwonk Andy Rotherham (and his Ed Sector colleague Elena Silva) for continuing to describe the “false choice between teaching facts and teaching how to approach them.” Writing in U.S. News, Rotherham foresees the potential “to make the 21st-century skills movement another fad leading to little change in American education.”
Critical thinking and problem solving, for example, have been a component of human progress throughout history, from early tools and agricultural advancements to gunpowder, vaccinations, or exploration. And while “global awareness” has historically been as much a martial talent as an economic one, interconnectedness is not new nor is information literacy among elites. Likewise, the idea that there is a hierarchy of knowledge from facts to complex analysis is not a new one. Plato, for example, wrote about four distinct levels of intellect. Perhaps these were considered ‘3rd-century B.C. skills’?
As Andy notes, some of those advocating 21st-century skills believe such skills should replace the teaching of content. “While students should leave school with more than just facts in their head, facts do matter, too,” Rotherham writes. “Content undergirds critical thinking, analysis, and broader information literacy skills….It’s impossible, for instance, to critically analyze the American Revolution without understanding the facts and context surrounding that event. Unfortunately, state, national, and international assessments show that despite a two-decade-long focus on standards, American schools still are not delivering a content-rich curriculum for all students.”
Rotherham also credits Core Knowledge founder E. D. Hirsch in the piece for fighting the good fight lo these past two decades that “giving all students a common framework of knowledge is a key strategy for increasing civic equality.”