One of the arguments I’ve long made in support of Common Core is that properly understood and implemented, it’s a delivery mechanism for the ideas and work of E. D. Hirsch, Jr., and the Core Knowledge curriculum he created.
It’s gratifying—and, alas, too rare—when others connect the dots. But here is Politico, out with its list of fifty “thinkers, doers and dreamers who really matter.” Sharing number eight on the list is Hirsch and David Coleman, the principal author of the Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts.
Hirsch’s work and output span decades, but a principal thrust of his ideas can be summarized thusly: reading comprehension is not a “skill” we can teach directly, practice, or master. It is not like riding a bike, where if you learn on one you can ride another with ease. Once you learn to “decode” the words on a page, your ability to read with understanding is largely a reflection of how much knowledge and vocabulary you have and share with the writer.
If schools understood and embraced this well-grounded insight, American education—and elementary education specifically—would look very different. There would be a lot less “question the author” and “find the main idea.” Instead you’d see teachers (especially those who work with our poorest children) restored, in David Coleman’s lovely and apt phrase, “to their rightful place as guides to the universe.” You’d see big chunks of the K-5 school day handed over to science, history, geography, and the arts, rather than held hostage by massive “reading blocks” that are typically content-free zones.
The pairing of Hirsch and Coleman by Politico is significant. You will not find Hirsch’s name in the Standards, but his thumbprints are there if you care to look. As Coleman notes in the Politico piece,...