Stephen attacks Willingham for the following statement: "Prior knowledge is vital to comprehension because writers omit information." The accuracy of this statement depends on whether the reader can fill in the missing "knowledge" (not facts). Stephen pounces on an offhand example in which he is able to fill in the missing knowledge with a logical deduction. Fair enough, but this doesn't prove the general case.
In the comments, I pose the following test to show the importance of content knowledge.
Here are four questions that are domain specific. Each is readily answerable with minimal knowledge in the specific domain and some general reasoning skills. However, let's assume you lack the required content knowledge and a means for acquiring that knowledge. Use your (superior) general reasoning skills to derive the same answer an expert would give for each.
- The total enthalpy of any non-isolated thermodynamic system tends to decrease over time, approaching a minimum value. Why?
- As the location of the subatomic particle becomes more precise, what would you infer about its momentum?
- Jones sacrificed and knocked in a run. Where is Jones and the runner?
- When John walked out onto the street, he nictitated rapidly. Where might John have just come from?
Stephen, responds with the folowing admission: "yes, you need domain knowledge to answer requests for facts within that domain. So what?"
Notice the crafty substitution of "facts" for "knowledge" -- A lovely misleading rhetorical flourish which I coincidently just noted:
Arguments for much more reasoning and less content (a necessary tradeoff, given the time constraints) in K-12 science begain decades ago. Eventually, the idea became a catch phrase. "Content" was redefined to function as a synonym for "facts" (or "mere facts") independent of reasoning. But defining content that way is nothing more than a rhetorical move. No honest study of science textbooks and lessons nationwide, not even from the benighted decades preceding the launch of sputnik, could conclude that just memorizable facts were required, with no reasoning. Facts were (and are) taught, and facts must be learned if any discipline is to be understoood and practiced. The rhetorical flourishes of those arguing for more scientific reasoning have affected some people's perceptions, but they have not changed the reality that, in general, science curricula have never been exclusively lists of facts to be memorized, devoid of the means by which those facts are discovered and gain acceptance in the scientific community.And then the back and forth begins in the comments which I think is the important and relevant bit.
My argument is simple. In those domains (pretty much every subject taught in school) in which a prior knowledge of content is required for understanding and using a person's general reasoning ability within that domain, shouldn't that prior knowledge be learned/acquired in school since not learning the content precludes understanding?