Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

The most important long-term effort

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Other than fighting climate change—which involves simply survival—the most important long-term effort in this country—though certainly not funded or studied as such—is education: that determines to a great extent the future of the country. And we’re not, I think, doing a very good job overall.

This book review by Richard Kahlenberg in The American Scholar speaks to a new approach:

On The Making of Americans: Democracy and Our Schools by E.D. Hirsch Jr. (Yale University Press, $25.00)

In the 1970s, English professor E. D. Hirsch Jr. conducted an experiment that would catapult him into the tumultuous world of education reform. He found that African-American students at a Richmond community college could read just as well as elite University of Virginia students when the topic was roommates or car traffic, but that an enormous gap developed when the topic was Robert E. Lee’s surrender to Ulysses S. Grant.

Reading comprehension, Hirsch concluded, was not just a transferable technical skill but one that required background knowledge of specific content. This shared knowledge was no longer explicitly taught in elementary schools, as generations of educators had been trained to teach skills rather than content, “critical thinking” rather than “mere facts.” The irony, Hirsch believed, was that “progressive” education theories focusing on “child-centered” learning were in fact disproportionately hurting low-income students, who were less likely than their affluent peers to acquire generally assumed knowledge of mainstream American culture at home. Hirsch believed, like the great teacher-unionist Albert Shanker, to whom Hirsch’s new book is dedicated, that to be a political liberal, concerned for the life chances of low-income and minority students, one must be an educational conservative. Hirsch outlined this argument in his best-selling 1987 volume,Cultural Literacy. To put his theory into practice, he established the Core Knowledge Foundation, which today supports more than 1,000 schools in 47 states. These schools, Hirsch says, perform significantly better than schools using the standard progressive education approach.

In The Making of Americans, Hirsch builds on this earlier work and widens the lens to connect his ideas on education reform to the fundamental rationales for our system of public schools in the United States. Citing the writings of Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Horace Mann, Hirsch identifies two central reasons for the American “common school”: to create social mobility, allowing bright, hard-working students of all origins to enjoy the American dream; and to create social cohesion, binding children of diverse economic, racial, and ethnic backgrounds into citizens of a single nation.

Hirsch makes a highly cogent case to support the concept that …

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 November 2009 at 6:54 pm

Posted in Books, Education

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