Skills Mania: Snake Oil in Our Schools? – DAVIS (CSS)

DAVIS Bob. Skills Mania: Snake Oil in Our Schools? Toronto: Between The Lines, 2000. 224p. Resenha de: SENGER, Elizabeth. Canadian Social Studies, v.36, n.2, 2002.

Bob Davis takes a critical look at the state of education. He contends that there is currently a dangerous trend in which teachers are encouraged to emphasize the attainment and development of skills at the cost of all other aspects of education. The main theme of this book is perhaps best summed up in Davis’ own words: these skills should be anchored incontent, conviction, allegiances, real human beings and, in general, a commitment to helping students understand history, learn about the world and consider ways to make it a better place to live (.p 9). He does not contend that skills are unnecessary, only that when we emphasize one aspect of education at the expense of all others we are not doing justice to our students, ourselves or our world.

Skills Mania is clearly a book for the professional development library. It is intended for teachers of all grade levels and subjects. Davis addresses what he sees as the problems of skills mania, and makes some concrete suggestions for dealing with these issues. He provides specific examples from his own extensive teaching experiences to demonstrate his convictions. These are difficult issues and Davis tackles them with passion and insight, with idealism but also realism. While some of the things he suggests make perfect sense, some of them require a total commitment of body and soul which I personally do not believe is realistic. On the other hand, the idealism he provides is necessary in order to clarify some very important goals that educators need to work toward.

Throughout the book Davis emphasizes the need for a balance of methods and styles. He makes it clear that there is no one best way, and that we need to use the best aspects of established educational practices, new theories and ideas, and constantly refine them. He also takes a somewhat controversial (but in my mind courageous and important) position when he states that it is necessary to help instil an understanding of good and bad, positive and negative in our students. One of his main criticisms of skills mania is that it encourages students to see through all eyes, but establish a commitment to nothing. This implies that there is no right and wrong, and that anything goes as long as it suits your fancy. In these times of political correctness taken to the Nth degree, Davis is certainly justified in criticizing such attitudes.

Davis also encourages the valuing of personal experiences, and integrating these experiences into our teaching and learning. Further, he understands and advocates the interconnectedness of all subjects. We do not teach students in isolation from the rest of the world or their prior knowledge; nor can we realistically believe that we teach subjects in isolation from each other. Ultimately, Davis says we need to help our kids function in the educational system which currently exists, and at the same time work for meaningful changes to the way we educate the citizens of the future. As with any good piece of literature, this book needs to be read with a critical eye and with an open mind.

Elizabeth Senger – Henry Wise Wood High School. Calgary Alberta.

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