28 mars 2012

Higher-order skills (Critical Guide, E.D. Hirsch Jr)

A phrase for the superior thinking skills that many current educational reforms aim to achieve. The goal is to produce students who can think and read critically, who can find information, who have mastered metacognitive strategies, and who know how to solve problems. 

Such students, it is asserted, will be far better prepared to face the challenges of the twenty-first century than those who merely possess a lot of traditional, soon-to-be-outdated, rote-learned information. Behind this contrast between higher order thinking skills and lower-order information lies the formalistic tool conception of education, which has been repudiated by mainstream cognitive psychology. 

If in fact the learning of higher-order skills did suffice to produce critical thinkers prepared for the challenges of the twenty-first century, we and our students would be very fortunate indeed and could forgo a great deal of the hard work associated with gaining factual knowledge and well-practiced operational skills in reading, writing, and mathematics. Since, unfortunately, this tool conception is incorrect, the outlook for the effectiveness of such "reforms" is dim. 

Higher-order skills are invariably and necessarily conjoined with a great deal of relevant, domain-specific information. Hence, there is no way to gain the skills without gaining the associated information. It is mere prejudice to assert that the strategies associated with using domain-specific information are of a "higher order" than the knowledge itself. This fact has led some cognitive scientists to use the more neutral term "associated strategies" rather than "higher-order skills."

Antipathy to subject-matter content  

"banking theory of schooling" 
"culturally-biased curriculum" 
"outcomes-based education" 
"research has shown"

Return to the main page : 

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 :  

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