The content of a great reformer

In this excellent biographical article in City Journal, Sol Stern takes a closer look at the life and works of E. D. Hirsch, Jr. Father of the Core Knowledge movement (and foundation by the same name), Hirsch started as a scholar of English. He broke from the Yale New Critics, amongst and under whom he did his graduate work, when he realized that a reader’s background content knowledge was fundamentally tied to his or her understanding of a piece of literature. Translate that to education: A student who has played baseball is much more likely to score well on a reading comprehension passage on baseball. (This is the very reason that schools like Harlem Success Academy in New York take their inner-city students to a farm each year to expose them to unfamiliar rural life, which is often a topic featured on state reading tests.) In Hirsch’s latest book, Making of Americans, he argues that common knowledge is fundamental to this American-making process; immigrants and native-born children alike must have the common educational experience, in history above all, to be contributing members of society. Indeed, Hirsch believes common content knowledge is the number one tool of social mobility. The good news is that more and more folks are starting to agree, including, apparently, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who bemoaned the low enrollment in Hirsch’s Curry School classes in his recent Columbia Teachers College speech. The education establishment--and the school reform establishment--have ignored Hirsch for far too long. But it’s never too late to make up for lost time. 

E. D. Hirsch’s Curriculum for Democracy,” Sol Stern, City Journal, Vol. 19, No. 4, Autumn 2009

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