Can problem solving be taught?

I am reading a book on Italy called Regole or “Rules” which discusses some of the problems of modern Italy. The authors point out the problems of the Italian education system and suggest that a greater emphasis should be put on teaching “problem solving” rather than teaching “knowledge”.

I am skeptical about the ability to teach problem solving or, for that matter, critical thinking. I see no evidence that teachers who specialize in teaching these “skills” are better at them then others. 

My wife is a better problem solver in those areas where she has knowledge and experience, and I am better in those areas where I have lots of knowledge and experience. I would want an experienced carpenter on a job site, not someone who took a course on problem solving. If we are talking about politics and economics, or business, or the modern information society, a wide general knowledge as well as very specific technical knowledge, and relevant experience, are what is needed. Of course, a lot will also depend on our inherent ability to reason practically.

I hear so many people exercizing their “critical thinking” skills based largely on ignorance and the results are not pretty.

I still think we need to teach knowledge, or at least the skills needed to acquire knowledge, like good reading skills.


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