In arecent column in the Times, Bob Herbert laments the state of Americans' education. To help make his point, Herbert focuses on the fact that large percentages of American high school students don't know basic facts about our history, and that they score terribly in math and science tests as they progress through school.Those are simple measures, and they're telling as far as they go--but they don't go far enough. The truth is, today's teens and twentysomethings don't really need to know specific facts. They can look those up, in an instant, online. What today's students need to learn is how to perform successful searches for information, and then how to vet that data and critically evaluate it. They need to learn logical thinking, as well as how to share their ideas with peers and role models. And they need to learn how to collaborate on projects with people from a range of cultures and backgrounds.Of course, some knowledge of basic facts is important. You can look up the exact dates of key Civil War battles as needed, but you ought to know that the war itself was fought less than 200 years ago--that information lends context to today's political and cultural landscape. But just as modern math students rely on calculators to perform basic math functions, even on tests, why not let students in history and science use the Internet to discover the facts, and then teach them what to do with that information once they have it? That would be the best preperation of all for the 21st Century.
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