In the 'New Lad' heyday of the mid-90s, when cigarettes, alcohol and football were all you needed to be a 'ledge', one was presented with a binary choice for lad-based news: 'Loaded' and 'FHM' were the clear market-leaders. Nuts and Zoo were a little too low-brow, aimed more at the 13-year olds lacking the confidence to buy pornographic magazines in their local WHSmiths and GQ was a little too high-brow, not to mention that fact that it contained fashion shoots involving men.
FHM and Loaded contained a glossy mix of supposedly true laddish tales, a 24 page glossy shoot of a lady whose first name ended in 'i', some sports and some music that it was ok for a lad to like (Oasis, Cast, Space etc). A 'dilemmas' feature occasionally made an appearance, presumably to massage the grey matter of the readership. This would include questions such as:
'Would you 'do' The Coors if you had to 'do' the bloke too?
Which would you prefer, a mermaid with the top half of a woman and the bottom half of a fish, or the top half of a fish and the bottom half of the woman?
If you could have ten points to spend on women, and supermodels were 10, women you knew were 2 and 'lucky dip' was 1, how would you spend your points?
If these aren't actual questions from FHM, they are close enough to the brain-teasers posed by the mag, and they make for a brand of rather tasteless sexism. I think we've moved on.
However, these needless and pointless questions aren't so very different from the question of 'Knowledge v Skills'. We have admittedly move into a more highbrow line of questioning (perhaps even beyond GQ's remit), but I don't think the dilemma is any more valid as a question. It is surely desirable to have both. It is even possible to possess 'skills' in isolation, without background knowledge? It is certainly possible to hold in one's mind a large collection of disparate facts, which may be useful when it comes to questions of pure factual recall (pub quizzes) for example, but does this even constitute knowledge? No-one articulates better what I mean than Richard Feynman - here he is talking about the difference between 'knowing the name of something, and knowing something':
It is clear that the people Feynman criticise possess a certain degree of knowledge, without the skills of analysis to make that knowledge useful. However, how can you begin to use your skills of analysis if you don't even know that it's a bird making the noise?
Knowledge and skills have little in common with the 'traditional v progressive' debate, though some may argue that the method of direct instruction favoured by those in the former category promotes the importance of knowledge and the pupil-centred approach favoured by the progressives promotes skills-based learning, but to look at things in these terms is too simplistic and binary (almost in the mold of an FHM article writer).
Every teacher must agree that the passing on of knowledge is to some degree their raison d'etre - this is evident in the quote from Joseph O'Neill, who states that 'the human race refreshes itself in complete ignorance'. However, no teacher would ever intend to pass on that knowledge without making connections between the material being delivered. I watched the marvellous BBC4 series 'A Tale of Three Cities' last night, which focused on Paris in 1928. The series moved effortlessly around the Culture, Politics, Art, Architecture and Music of the City, all placed in clear historical context. I can't imagine how one could have appreciated the programme without knowledge of how these things came to be, but it takes a certain degree of skill to understand how these things are connected. 'Only Connect' has been the theme of my Third Form teaching this year, and I have tried to prove that connections can be made between seemingly disparate things.
I cannot imagine anything more dull than skills-based teaching - the passing on of knowledge is one of the most joyful parts of being a teacher. Having said that, to think that I was merely preparing pupils for a tilt at the 'Eggheads' would be pretty disappointing too. In much the same way that Baddiel and Skinner will always be linked to the laddish mid-90s through '3 Lions' and 'Fantasy Football', it's impossible to de-couple knowledge from skills. It's not an either/or question- if it's those you're after, stick to your back-copies of Loaded.