The Vacuum Called High School

Re “Clueless in America,” by Bob Herbert (column, April 22):

I don’t dispute Mr. Herbert’s claim that American high school students are not getting a good education, but I question the evidence he is using to prove it. His examples are factual (knowing who Hitler was or when the Civil War was fought).
Students today can Google that kind of information in seconds. What is more important is that they can’t do what I’m doing right now: they can’t identify claims and evidence and evaluate them. Those skills are what constitute “critical thinking” and what our students need to learn in order to succeed in college and beyond.
High schools need to focus on critical-thinking skills, not facts. Nancy Rehm
Biglerville, Pa., April 22, 2008
The writer is a teacher of gifted high school students.
To the Editor:
Bob Herbert correctly points to the dismal state of education in this country today. However, the irony of Bill Gates’s complaining that American students don’t measure up to the rest of the world is too rich to pass up.
It is precisely because of Bill Gates and his ilk that students are told by the educational reformers that they don’t have to “know” anything — they can just look it up on the Web. Instead, they say, let students focus on feel-good exercises that foster “deep learning” and other chimerical and trendy educational goals.
Is it any wonder that our students don’t know the history of their own country, much less that of the rest of the world? A global society, indeed.
Gary Kappel
Bethany, W. Va., April 22, 2008
The writer is a history professor at Bethany College.