Diane Ravitch takes to the op-ed page of the Boston Globe to urge Bay Staters not to be seduced by 21st century skills hucksterism. Her singular contribution to education is historical memory in a field where it’s famously lacking. Whether it’s the “Project Method” of the early 20th century, the “Activity Movement’ of the 20s and 30s, the “Life Adjustment Movement’’ of the 1950s, or “Outcome-Based Education’’ in the 1980s, Ravitch reminds us that we’ve seen this movie before.
None of these initiatives survived. They did have impact, however: They inserted into American education a deeply ingrained suspicion of academic studies and subject matter. For the past century, our schools of education have obsessed over critical-thinking skills, projects, cooperative learning, experiential learning, and so on. But they have paid precious little attention to the disciplinary knowledge that young people need to make sense of the world.
“For over a century we have numbed the brains of teachers with endless blather about process and abstract thinking skills,” Ravitch concludes. ”We have taught them about graphic organizers and Venn diagrams and accountable talk, data-based decision-making, rubrics, and leveled libraries. But we have ignored what matters most. We have neglected to teach them that one cannot think critically without quite a lot of knowledge to think about. Thinking critically involves comparing and contrasting and synthesizing what one has learned. And a great deal of knowledge is necessary before one can begin to reflect on its meaning and look for alternative explanations.”
My neck hurts. Must have injured it nodding vigorously in agreement.