Skills Mania
Snake Oil in Our Schools?

Davis, Bob
Publisher:  Between the Lines, Toronto, Canada
Year Published:  2000  
Pages:  224pp   Price:  $24.95   ISBN:  1-896357-33-4
Library of Congress Number:  LB41.D318 2000   Dewey:  370'.1
Resource Type:  Book
Cx Number:  CX7650

Davis argues that the purpose of education should not be primarily that of teaching skills useful in the job market.

Abstract:  Davis addresses what he perceives to be a fundamental problem with contemporary North American skills-based public education. He believes that merely teaching types of skills, such as media literacy, scientific literacy, problem-solving, or communication skills, could eventually cause students to fail to form strong opinions on subjects. Such students would "see through everything but believe nothing." To avoid such neutrality, which could lead to a generation of "mentally skilled but mindless" individuals, Davis proposes that the focus of education be shifted to content (historical, scientific, literary or otherwise), that teachers express their passions and convictions with regard to their subjects, and that skills be taught explicitly for the purpose of helping students consider how to make the world a better place.

The educational system's focus on skills instead of content, which Davis terms "Skills Mania," is so accepted because information presently is accessible enough and goes obsolete quickly enough that in order to find employment, one must be equipped with many adaptable skills. However, this position assumes that the purpose of education should be primarily vocational, a premise with which Davis disagrees. He also maintains that few students are finding employment that requires "skills" and most are simply learning that which does not apply to "the basic substance of life."

The "value-neutral" way that skills are taught troubles Davis because the fact that those skills were considered important enough to be taught at all presupposes some context for their relevance. He argues that if the convictions with which skills should be used are not taught, students could go on to apply skills in immoral ways (e.g. using "social skills" for the purpose of manipulating one's friends). If any vision for the future is to be maintained, education must not continue to focus only on the acquisition of skills without teaching the purposes those skills should serve.

[Abstract by Oliver Mao]

Table of Contents

1. How the Skills Philosophy Thrives in New Fields
2. Collaboration and Collaborators
3. Collaboration, Part II
4. English
5. History
6. Citizenship Education
7. Sociology
8. Psychology
9. Strengthening Science as a Subject for All Students, Part I and Part II
10. Why We Should Turn Away from Skills Mania and What We Should Try Instead


Subject Headings