Friday, September 25, 2020

"Knowledge is good"

.... Reading is not a generalized skill. It involves another factor, background knowledge, which is not an abstract intellectual capacity. If you hand two groups of kids a passage about baseball—one group made up of strong readers who know little about the sport, the other of middling readers who know a lot about it—an interesting result follows. When tested on their comprehension of the passage, the average scores of the two groups converge. This is why Hirsch says that a reading test is really a knowledge test.

It is also why he rejects “skills” curricula—that is, teaching and assignments that emphasize abstract capacities such as “critical thinking” and “problem solving” and, in the lower grades, “reading comprehension.” Exercises such as “Find the main idea” and “What does a topic sentence do?” are of limited value. It is much better, Hirsch says, for teachers to assign knowledge-building readings and discuss the specific content of those readings. One, this will build the background knowledge that will enable students to perform well on high-stakes tests later on; and two, students will absorb unconsciously how to find a main idea and what topic sentences do.

.... His new book has fresh scientific findings to back up the knowledge factor. There is a fascinating section on the memory of chess Grand Masters, good historical material on Noah Webster and nineteenth-century schooling, and dismal records of what happened to academic achievement when schools went with the “skills” approach to learning. I recommend his books especially to those parents who find themselves doing lots of homeschooling in this age of lockdown.

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