Behind the Headline: Schools for Wisdom

By 10/16/2015

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Schools for Wisdom
New York Times | 10/16/2015

Behind the Headline
Review of The Knowledge Deficit
Education Next | Fall 2006

In his column in this morning’s New York Times, David Brooks reacts to a documentary about education called “Most Likely to Succeed.”

The film argues that our schools should “take content off center stage and to emphasize the relational skills future workers will actually need.” It highlights one school the director thinks is getting things right, High Tech High in San Diego, and devotes a lot of time to showing how skilled the High Tech High students are “at working in teams, demonstrating grit and developing self-confidence.”

Brooks complains

The documentary is about relationships, not subject matter. In the school, too, teachers cover about half as much content as in a regular school. Long stretches of history and other subject curriculums are effectively skipped. Students do not develop conventional study habits.

The big question is whether such a shift from content to life skills is the proper response to a high-tech economy. I’d say it’s at best a partial response.

Ultimately, what matters is not only how well you can collaborate in groups, but the quality of the mind you bring to the group. In rightly playing up soft skills the movie underemphasizes intellectual virtues. For example, it ignores the distinction between information processing, which computers are good at, and knowledge, which they are not.


For a defense of the importance of knowledge over skills, please read this review of E.D. Hirsch’s book, The Knowledge Deficit, penned by Diane Ravitch (!)

Mike Petrilli writes about how the Common Core marks a return to content over skills in “Common Core’s Best Kept Secret.” And there’s more on this topic here.

For more on High Tech High, please read “Future Schools

— Education Next

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