For decades — long before No Child Left Behind and high-stakes testing — elementary teachers have focused on reading and math, spending little time science and social studies, writes Natalie Wexler in a New York Times commentary.
That’s because teachers believe their students need reading skills and strategies, such as “finding the main idea,” she writes. They don’t realize that reading comprehension requires a broad base of knowledge about the world.
Many elementary students spend hours practicing skills-based strategies, reading a book about zebras one day and a story about wizards the next, flitting among subjects.
. . . For students to understand what they’re reading, they need relevant background knowledge and vocabulary.
Common Core calls for “building knowledge systematically,” writes Wexler. But the standards “don’t specify what knowledge students should learn in each grade, because they’re designed to be used across the country.” So most educators are still focusing on skills.
In a comment, Emile, a professor at a “mid-tier university” for more than 25 years, calls for K-12 schools to forget “about instilling love of learning.” Instead, schools should “provide the basic scaffolding for knowledge, and let students take it from there.” Professors won’t have to teach about Enlightenment ideals to students who’ve never heard of the Roman empire.