The Minnesota Legislature has scrapped the controversial "Profiles of Learning" program – a major win for the GOP and educators that had always seen the program as a waste of time.
Yet Mitch Berg has some reservations about the new "back to basics" emphasis of Minnesota’s educational system. He raises some very good points – the American educational system has not fundamentally changed since the industrial revolution. The same techniques developed by Horace Mann 150 years ago are still being used in thousands of classrooms today.
While getting "back to basics" is important, today’s society requires more than just the basics. It is no longer possible to survive in the Information Age if one is only able to regurgitate information. Schools have to teach students how to think – developing analytical skills, developing logical argumentation skills, and most importantly developing highly attuned bullshit detectors. These skills are absolutely critical to life in a society where information is power.
Yet I’ve never once seen a high-school that offered basic formal logic classics. Most students only read what the book tells them, even though most textbooks are riddled with factual errors, biased statements, and political correctness for its own sake. How can anyone expect to be a critical consumer of media without the most basic critical thinking and argumentation skills?
The Profiles were a bad program, but this "back to basics" program is largely confined to teaching basic skills that were necessary a century ago. A new educational approach needs to be found that offers the skills necessary for this century. Until that happens, don’t count on the public educational system to make students competitive. It’s up to parents to ensure that children have access to information and get basic critical thinking skills.
UPDATE: Thanks to archive.org, I was able to find a copy of this great essay "Sesame Street, Epistemology, and Freedom" that explains what these critical thinking skills are and why it is so important that they be taught.