In the last post, I wrote about Derek Bok’s recent book. A minor theme of Bok is the tension in academia between content and skills. This manifests itself in a number of areas, but most prominently in the discussion of professional study versus arts & sciences.
I have a slightly different take that I would like to put forward for your comment. I may be wrong–after all, I have a long established talent at reductionism. If so, I hope you will let me know.
The distinction that I wish to make is between teaching about some discipline and teaching how to practice that discipline. Of course, practice requires knowledge of content: History includes names, dates and events, but what historians do is far more than that–history is the interpretion of those names, dates and events using a specific way of thinking involving a specific set of practices. At least, that’s my hypothesis.
I wonder then, if the fundamental difference between secondary and higher education is this distinction. Higher Education teaches how to think about issues and problems, which is more than a mere skill since it presupposes a context rich with content. Lower levels of education, I think, are more about learning about and being able to describe issues and problems.
In your own classrooms, do you teach about your discipline or do you teach how to do what practitioners of your discipline do?