26 mars 2012

Accessing Skills (Critical Guide, E. D. Hirsch Jr)

  A phrase used to define an aspect of "learning to learn." 

  Accessing skills are currently emphasized by our schools on the grounds that today's knowledge is changing so rapidly that it will be irrelevant tomorrow. It is better to learn how to "access information" (i.e., how to look things up, or how to use a library or computer or spell-check program) than to learn a lot of soon-to-be-outmoded facts. 

  The emphasis on accessing skills is an expression of the tool metaphor of education, which opposes itself to the "banking theory" or "transmission theory" of schooling (which see). The tool conception holds that schooling should emphasize instrumental strategies, such as how to find knowledge, rather than emphasizing knowledge itself. The dominance of this tool idea, which dates back to the early days of the progressive movement, has led our schools to spend a lot of time teaching such techniques as dictionary – or encyclopedia – accessing skills, which must indeed be taught to children but are not inherently difficult skills that take a long time to acquire. They cannot replace students' ready knowledge of varied subject matters and word meanings. A speaker on the radio or television does not pause for listeners to look up the words they don't know. Even when using an encyclopedia or CD-ROM, students without prior background knowledge cannot understand the things they look up. 

  Preparing students to cope with new knowledge is indeed central to good education. But knowing how to look things up, while important, is not by itself a skill that effectively enables students to learn new things. The skill to learn new things consists of both general tactics like accessing skills and a generous amount of "domain-specific" knowledge.

  Contrary to the tool metaphor, a general ability to learn new competencies never consists solely of accessing strategies but also entails familiarity with the most important knowledge in mathematics, the sciences, the humanities, and the arts.

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This was an excerpt from Hirsch's great book on education :
The Schools We Need and Why We Don't Have Them.

Recension by Richard Askey : http://mathematicallycorrect.com/hirsch.htm  

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