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Will Schools of the Future Break With Tradition?

So much has already been written about the anachronistic basis for this country's entire K-12 educational system that I hesitate to address the issue ("Schools for Wisdom," The New York Times, Oct. 16).  But when I read certain assertions that are out of touch with reality, I have to weigh in.

A new documentary "Most Likely to Succeed" asserts that subject matter should take a back seat to relational skills. That's because a high-tech economy demands workers who know how to "collaborate, persevere and navigate" through a series of freelance jobs. These soft skills, the documentary says, are more important than intellectual prowess.  The evidence is that since 1980 occupations requiring strong social skills have grown more than others ("Why What You Learned in Preschool Is Crucial at Work," The New York Times, Oct. 18).

I don't doubt for a second that the ability to work with others as a team is vital, but I maintain that it can never replace the knowledge that comes from mastering subject matter.  Schools teach many lessons, not all of which come from books.  However, without a basic foundation in the most important content of any given field, students are not going to be hired simple because they get along well with others ("Sorry, College Grads, I Probably Won't Hire You," The Wall Street Journal, May 9, 2014).

We can argue all day long about the weight that should be given to each component.  But from a practical point of view, it's not productive.  I'm forever grateful that my K-12 public-school teachers stressed content learning.  It provided me with the wherewithal to grow.  If instead my teachers had stressed soft skills, I doubt very much that I would have had any success in life. I wonder if other readers feel the same way.

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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