Published Online: April 21, 2009
Published in Print: April 22, 2009, as Straw-Man Arguments in Skills-vs.-Content Debate


Straw-Man Arguments in Skills-vs.-Content Debate

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To the Editor:

One might have hoped that educators would have gotten past straw-man arguments such as those found in Peter Berger’s Commentary “Predicting the Past” (April 1, 2009). No responsible advocate of 21st-century skills is suggesting the teaching of skills without rigorous content. At the same time, no responsible advocate of rigorous content is suggesting boring and irrelevant lessons that cause students to drop out, tune out, or go to college looking for the least-rigorous math and science courses they can take. That both extremes happen frequently is a shame, but demolishing these straw men is no way to come to a solution.

My former colleagues and I at the SCANS 2000 Center at Johns Hopkins University conducted a project in inner-city Baltimore schools that blended the teaching of skills and content in a way that led to many fewer dropouts and much higher passing rates in advanced math and English courses. These results contrasted with those of the traditional process—a process that often leaves English teachers ignorant of math, math teachers ignorant of English, and students ignorant of both.

Arnold Packer
College of Education and Allied Professions
Institute for the Economy and the Future
Western Carolina University
Cullowhee, N.C.

The writer was the executive director of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Secretary’s Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills, known as the SCANS commission.

Vol. 28, Issue 29, Page 31

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