Michael Zwaagstra

High school teacher and Senior Fellow with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy


Content Knowledge is the Key to Learning

“The world is changing faster than ever before.” Trite phrases like this one are often used to justify a de-emphasis on factual content in schools. However, research is clear that content knowledge is absolutely essential for deeper learning to take place. In far too many cases, subject specific content is downplayed while teachers waste valuable class time trying to teach generic critical thinking skills to their students. Contrary to what teachers commonly hear during their professional development sessions, critical thinking is not an abstract skill that can be learned in the absence of specific content knowledge.

This presentation will examine the research and show that content knowledge is the key to 21st Century Learning. In order for all students, including those from disadvantaged backgrounds, to succeed, we need to ensure they acquire the necessary background knowledge. This means rich curriculum content, direct instruction, and a healthy amount of memorization. Instead of reducing content, we need to enhance it and ensure that all students acquire the knowledge they need to be successful in school and beyond.


Michael Zwaagstra teaches high school social studies in a Manitoba public school and is a Senior Fellow with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.

He received his BEd, PBCE, and MEd (Educational Administration) from the University of Manitoba and his MA (Theological Studies) from Liberty University. His columns promoting common sense education reform have been published in major daily newspapers, including the National Post and the Globe and Mail. He is a frequent guest on radio stations across the country and has spoken at many different conferences and events. His first book, What’s Wrong with Our Schools and How We Can Fix Them, was published in 2010.