Trying to Separate Skills From Knowledge

by Shane Vander Hart

I’m reading Joy Pullmann’s new book Education Invasion: How Common Core Fights Parents for Control of American Kids. I highly encourage you to pick up a copy. I interviewed Joy for Caffeinated Thoughts Radio this week (airs tomorrow), and I told her she does an incredible job describing the history of how Common Core came to be. I’ve written an essay on that very topic for Common Ground on Common Core, and I learned things I didn’t know. She also discusses what she saw in several classrooms she was able to visit and how the Common Core impacted what was taught. That is something very few of us who have opposed Common Core have had the ability to do.

In chapter 2 that discusses “The Common Core Classroom,” Joy writes about how the Common Core tries to divorce content from skills.

She writes:

Common Core doesn’t merely remain open-ended on content. It actually undermines the teaching of specific core knowledge by promoting classroom methods that emphasize academic skills or practices instead, supposedly to help eliminate the environmental advantage that better-off children bring with them. That’s why “close reading” calls for answers drawn strictly from the text at hand, not from the wider store of knowledge that children may have amassed. It’s an attempt to level the playing field.

Trying to separate skills from knowledge in this way is a fool’s errand, according to Robert Pondiscio, a former teacher turned pundit. To illustrate the point: you can’t learn how to build a house without knowing about materials or the use of tools; and conversely, using the tools and materials deepen your knowledge of them. Reading about baseball or the phases of the moon or the Oregon Trail increases your knowledge of those subjects, and the acquired knowledge then improves your ability to read about related topics, in a kind of feedback. When you read the daily news, you will comprehend it more thoroughly if you start from a solid base of civic and cultural literacy – something that too many citizens do not have.

A survey in 2011 found that only half of Americans could name the three branches of government, and just one in five could identify the origin of the phrase “a wall of separation” between church and state from among for options. The remedy for this problem does not lie in the content-light standards of Common Core, with all its emphasis on “informational text” but no coherent principles for selecting and organizing it. If children read only a haphazard list of materials their teachers happen to like, compiled with no thought to building a focused and delineated core of cultural literacy, their knowledge level will be laughable and their reading fluency will be underdeveloped, too.

Spot on. I highly commend her book and am looking forward to finishing it.

This has been reposted from Truth in American Education with permission from the author.


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