The Making of Americans: Democracy and Our Schools
August 26, 2009
E.D. Hirsch, Jr.
Yale University Press
This provocative new book by E.D. Hirsch (dedicated to the late Al Shanker) poses fundamental challenges to both of the dominant reform movements in American education--challenges that their leaders would do well to ponder. On the one hand, Hirsch defies the skill-centric view of academic standards, contending that the nation's founders and Horace Mann had it right, but that for the past seventy years America's leading educators have misconceived K-8 education as being about the 3 R's rather than fundamental knowledge and civic values. On the other hand, he defies proponents of charters, vouchers, and other forms of school choice as wishful thinkers disposed to let marketplace theories trump evidence of student achievement while also undervaluing education's civic and cultural roles. Both sets of reformers, Hirsch suggests, have a narrow, utilitarian, and private view of schooling that ill-serves our democracy. He calls instead for an "American core curriculum" in grades K-8--for all kids, all schools, all communities, all states--and outlines what that would entail, as well as why it's important. What he does not do--this book is more exhortation than manual--is to suggest a path through the organizational, political, ideological, and intellectual foes of his appealing and well-argued conception of what a proper public-education system would accomplish for the United States in the 21st century. You can obtain the book here.