Content vs. Skills in High Schools: 21st Century Arguments Echo 19th Century Conflicts

Larry Cuban on School Reform and Classroom Practice

Did you ever remember a melody and could even hum it but cannot, for the life of you, recall the words? That happens a lot to me. I thought of that as I read more and more about “soft skills” as an essential for 21st century students eventually entering the workplace. Working in teams, being able to motivate others, persevere at tasks, navigate organizational tricky waters, and lead–these are the skills that high schools today should teach youth.

Hey, what about content? What about intellectual acuity to develop and display a substantive argument anchored in facts? As David Brooks says in a recent op-ed: “Ultimately, what matters is not only how well you can collaborate in groups, but the quality of mind you bring to the group.”  “The cathedrals of knowledge and wisdom,” he writes, are “based on the foundations of factual acquisition and cultural literacy.”  Soft skills, he…

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