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Prof. Mark Carnes considers question of skills versus content in education

In The Chronicle of Higher Education, Barnard history professor Mark Carnes, creator of the "Reacting to the Past" curriculum, comments on the most important aspects of general-education requirements. An excerpt:

"Even devotees of the Reacting to the Past method dispute the extent to which the underlying subject matter is important. Mark C. Carnes, a professor of history at Barnard College and creator of Reacting to the Past, says he favors using the method to teach subject matter from the core curriculum. He has helped devise Reacting courses that cover the French Revolution (in which students read Edmund Burke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau) and the roots of democracy (in which they read Plato's Republic, Thucydides, and Xenophon), among other subjects.

"Great texts nearly always emerge in points of intense social transformation," Mr. Carnes says. "Thus games based on them have great drama, and students, in making difficult arguments, find gold in the texts."

The underlying content matters, he says, because "if students have powerful ideas rattling around in their heads, along with strong chains of evidence, they will learn to think.""

Read the full article here.