A Snow Day (Snow Week) Reminds Us Why a Knowledge-Based Curriculum Matters

The International School of San Antonio uses a knowledge-based curriculum in our language immersion preschool. In this post, our head of academics, Mary Field, explores why we emphasize knowledge as we help children acquire French and Mandarin Chinese.

It is snowing outside my window as I write this. For most of my life, snowfall in February would not be unusual. Here in San Antonio, however, this winter storm has brought us power outages, a lack of water and disruptions in every part of our lives. This latest crisis is a reminder of why we do the work that we do at the International School of San Antonio. Education helps us survive. Specifically, it is knowledge-based education that has come to the rescue.

The chatter in the education community has been “21st century skills” for the later years of my own education and my early career. Well, we are one-fifth of the way through our the 21st century and the argument for a knowledge-based curriculum has never been stronger. Teaching kids knowledge, aka facts (rather than abstract skills like “finding the main idea”) is more effective for reading in general. Skills-based education is also likely what keeps the test scores of American kids low compared with their international peers. Having knowledge makes it easier to learn more things, in other words, knowledge begets knowledge. Educators have spent a great deal of time arguing for teaching critical thinking, but it turns out, that is a very hard thing to teach. And yet, with enough knowledge, critical thinking inevitably happens.

Back to our frigid week here in Texas. By Tuesday night, my husband and I had not had power for over 12 hours. Our house, nearly a century old, has only withstood temperatures this cold twice. But the nice thing about old houses is that they have fireplaces! Even better, there is a fireplace in our bedroom! In order to stay warm, all we had to do was build a fireplace fender, gather kindling, start a fire, keep it going and sacrifice the decorative birch logs I paid $35 for. Also, we had to make sure we didn’t accidentally kill ourselves in the process. Knowledge about carbon monoxide, metals, combustion, basic chemistry and home improvement all came in handy. The alleged “21st century skills” don’t really help when the situation is more 19th century.

I credit having knowledge as helping my husband and I through this latest crisis. Of course, knowledge has to come from somewhere. In this case, I have my dad to thank. In early childhood education, we often throw around the phrase “parents are a child’s first teacher.” Perhaps we forget that parents stay their children’s teacher, long after graduation. When I was a kid, my dad taught me how to build a fire during our dreary winters in New England. I remember sitting on the porch blowing bubbles in the summer, as he hypothesized about what made some bubbles pop sooner than others. He was seeking more knowledge even then. At ISSA, I hope for the sake of all of our students, that their parents impart lots of knowledge on them too. You never know when it might be useful, like on a snow day in San Antonio.

Author: Mary Field

Published: 02/18/2021

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