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"Too much methodology and skills in school"
Prince's Teaching Institute summer school
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Subject: "Too much methodology and skills in school"
Mrs Bernice McCabe, head of independent North London Collegiate School and speaker at Prince Charles' summer school, says that there is too little focus on "proper knowledge of core subjects in schools today:"

There has been a widespread feeling among teachers who have attended previous summer schools that there should be more incentive for teachers to communicate the richness of their subjects and the sheer enjoyment of studying them. But they tell us it is not always easy to do so.

The main thrust has been to place greater emphasis on the applications of mathematics rather than the concepts; to attach more importance to exam results than to real educational standards in the subject; and to concentrate on the perceived needs of the many, with corresponding neglect of laying proper foundations for the study of higher mathematics by those with the talent for it.

And for the large majority of children, the attempts to design maths courses that were more relevant and accessible have had the effect of reducing the levels of challenge, enjoyment and attainment.

In a speech, she said the emphasis on personal, learning and thinking skills - as well as functional English and maths - is "a wholly inadequate prescription for education". She added:

Because the centrality of subject knowledge is no longer considered by everyone in the education world to be a priority and, too often, it has taken second place to a concern with teaching methodology and skills.

No-one who has spent any time teaching will undervalue the importance of the craft of the classroom, and all teachers are of course committed to preparing their pupils for life beyond school. But an over-emphasis on methodology and skills can mean losing sight of the fact that the best teaching is about communicating with enthusiasm what lies at the heart of our subjects.…

It seems here - although she is certainly right in lamenting the loss of "proper knowledge" in today's school subjects - that Mrs McCabe too quickly juxtaposes the focus on personal and learning skills with the focus on thinking skills. Of course, thinking skills are still skills, as are personal and learning skills: they are not "proper knowledge" in a strict sense. On the other hand, thinking skills are necessary conditions of all other types of skills and knowledge. One must be able to think properly in order to perform any task or to understand any subject matter. Therefore thinking skills are more fundamental than the other skills. Besides, in general schools have not, until now, focused so much on thinking skills as on pedagogical methodology and other more trivial types of skills.

But on the whole, she is right. There is far too much messing about in contemporary schools, too much experimenting and short-sighted programs and reforms, too much politics. This does not mean, however, that we should dispense with the teaching of thinking skills. Mrs McCabe implies as much herself when she complains that there is too much "emphasis on the applications of mathematics rather than the concepts." If you want more conceptual thinking in mathematics then you require that the pupils have acquried proper thinking skills.
Retention of strangeness is the only antidote to estrangement. T. W. Adorno
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