The Importance of Teaching Content

From Gilbert Sewall, “Lost In Action: Are time-consuming, trivializing activities displacing the cultivation of active minds?,” American Educator (Summer 2000).

Sometimes teachers must inform directly; at other times they guide students to figure things out for themselves. Active, attentive listening—on the part of both teacher and students—is an imperative. Repetition, practice, and memorization have their part, as does learning to take organized notes. At the core, always, is serious content approached seriously. Knowledge builds on knowledge. Thirteen years of carefully sequenced content and jealously guarded classroom time allow students to build an enormous storehouse of knowledge and skills and the ability to use them. And since knowledge and success are the best breeding ground for interest to take root and expand, the more students know, the more they will want to know.

Under the leadership of their teacher, students work to unearth meaning; to evaluate, interpret, compare, extend, and apply; to analyze their errors, present their findings, defend their solutions; to attend carefully to what others say; to get their thoughts down clearly on paper; to understand. This is not boring and it is not passive. This is real action learning. This is the mind at work. Those who would banish such teaching by dismissing it as dull and ineffective are better advised to put their efforts into helping teachers sharpen these familiar and research-validated approaches.

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