Curriculum Letter to the Editor

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

April 21, 2009 1 min read
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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.

A version of this article appeared in the April 22, 2009 edition of Education Week as Straw-Man Arguments in Skills-vs.-Content Debate


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