To calculate the overall star rating and percentage breakdown by star, we don’t use a simple average. Instead, our system considers things like how recent a review is and if the reviewer bought the item on Amazon. It also analyses reviews to verify trustworthiness.
Ed Hirsch simply ignores well done research that does not agree with his thesis that the curriculum is everything. In particular, he ignores research on the importance of teacher quality as done by researchers like Eric Hanushek and summarized in Paul Peterson's book "Saving Our Schools." So yes, a good curriculum is necessary, but so are good teachers.
It's too bad so many educational theorists have taken to name calling each other and basing their conclusions on unsubstantiated research claims in the debate between knowledge-driven curricula and a critical skills-based approach. There really is enough room for both views to coexist in our schools ... as long as we bear in mind the classic axiom that knowledge is something we acquire from learning and a skill is something we acquire by experience. Knowledge is the key and the required base for a skill to be performed successfully. Anyone who denies this basic principle is simply in a state of denial. Unfortunately, too many of today's educational reform efforts fall short because they discount the importance of a solid knowledge base in favor of teaching convoluted skills and cramming metacognitive aptitude down the throats of children too young to successfully process and apply them. Likewise, too many school systems are overburdening their teachers by requiring them to read esoteric books and attend training sessions forcing them to embrace such "Johnny come lately" skills-driven approaches as one of the two primary measures of their success (the other, of course, being their students' test results on misguided and overused standardized tests). A simple look at standardized state-level elementary Language Arts tests proves the point: How can we expect to make sense of what our youngsters really learn at school when they have to respond to test questions such as "Which paragraph in the passage above best answers the following question..." or "Which of the following might be the best subtitle for paragraph #3?" Perhaps the worst culprit of all (as acknowledged by Hirsch) encountered on tests is "Which of the following best represents the main idea of the passage" when even teachers and instructional coaches gather to debrief after the test and can't agree on which is the best answer. Really? ...and then we wonder why our children do so poorly on tests, all the while having completely purged the curriculum of any grammar instruction,etc.? Kudos to Mr. Hirsch for not only shedding light on the failure of so many of these upstart educational theories, but also for backing up his own research with the latest proven international findings (e.g., in France and Japan) and for doing it without mean-spirited name calling. Especially if used in conjunction with his previously published "nuts and bolts" grade-level essential knowledge workbooks, our teachers and parents would be so much better off listening to what Hirsch has to say than to get lost in the fuzzy musings of so many educational theorists out to make a quick buck.
Hirsch (now approaching 90) continues his crusade for knowledge/content-based teaching with his new book, WHY KNOWLEDGE MATTERS. Back in 1987 when he was arguing for enhanced cultural literacy he criticized ‘skill-based’ reading instruction. He offered examples such as an experiment by a University of Illinois researcher who had a group of Indian students and a group of American students. They each read texts on weddings, in the one case weddings in America, in the other weddings in India. The experiment confirmed that students from India could understand the account of weddings in India far more successfully than Americans could, and vice versa. This (not very counterintuitive) experiment confirmed that the more you already know about a subject the more prepared you are to read additional materials on that subject. In other words, it’s not simply a matter of having reading ‘skills’; it’s a matter of having actual knowledge. This flew in the face of college of education doctrine, which largely persists today, despite the fact that ‘skill-based’ techniques result in systematic failure vis à vis countries (Japan, e.g.) that stress content. This is one of the reasons why we fall behind other industrialized countries in the international PISA test (and yet we persist in utilizing failed methods).
In WHY KNOWLEDGE MATTERS Hirsch has changed his vocabulary somewhat. He characterizes the ‘skill-based’ methods as ‘naturalistic’, ‘developmental’ and ‘individualistic’, in part to link them with the nexus of theoretical notions and jargon associated with Dewey and traceable to the pantheism of Wordsworth and Hegel which so influenced him. Hirsch would substitute ‘community-based’ or ‘communitarian’ methods, echoing the notion that the acculturation of the young by adults, the introducing of the young to the breadth and depth of adult learning in their particular society is a far more ‘natural’ practice than treating the student as if he or she is some creature in a Rousseau-like state of nature who must learn on his or her own, in his or her way, at his or her pace.
Hirsch argues for building common curricula consisting of challenging texts that will be read and discussed by all students (as he long has done) with increased evidence here, principally the passing of the so-called loi Jospin of 1989. Basically, the French (who had a very strong system of education) suddenly decided to adopt American methods. The result (as the French themselves characterized it) was a “tragic debacle”.
The purpose of utilizing content-based reading materials is not just because they are more effective. They are also far more egalitarian; they are the best way to achieve equity in schools that consist of students who enjoy advantages as well as students who begin with considerable disadvantages. For example: vocabulary (which is expanded by reading substantive texts) is crucial to human economic success. One standard deviation in the size of a student’s vocabulary results in a differential of $10,000 in income (in 2012 dollars). One important study (described in detail—p. 167) examined the impact of discussion and feedback on the student’s resulting vocabulary. After four years of observation it was found that children from professional families heard 45,000,000 words, children from working class families 26,000,000 words, children from welfare families only 13,000,000 words. Content-based learning is best positioned to remedy these disparities. The bottom line is that there is really no such thing as a reading skill divorced from content. All reading ‘skills’ are based on domain-specific knowledge. A low-IQ student who knows a great deal about a given subject (stars, dinosaurs, football, whatever) is a better reader of texts in those areas than a high IQ student who lacks the domain-specific knowledge. Hence the goals of both reading achievement and reading equity are best served by a content-rich curriculum that spans a wide variety of human learning and human experience. (The latter points are reinforced at length by references to a wide body of contemporary research.)
Hirsch has utilized the resources from his bestselling 1987 book to establish a foundation that works with schools across the country (some 1200 now) to build content-rich curricula. These schools have achieved great success in the face of opposition from the education establishment. He has demonstrated the importance to a democracy of common cultural literacy, both for the advancement of all citizens and for their ability to communicate with each other. One review of this new book labels him a national hero. That is not an understatement.
Highly recommended (though the reader should also check out Hirsch’s earlier book, CULTURAL LITERACY).
I have always felt uncomfortable teaching "skills" to my middle-school students in English class because it just seemed so worksheet-driven and ineffective. Hirsch does a great job of hammering home the point that teaching skills, such as how to find the main idea, is the wrong way to go about fixing the problem of helping students comprehend text. Students should instead be given actual content with its own embedded vocabulary to create a base of knowledge onto which more difficult texts can be layered over time. Year upon year, students would study a core curriculum of content that would build and grow. In this way, vocabulary is taught authentically in a way that helps students build their comprehension of big ideas, even those students who previously had little knowledge on the topic. Hirsch also uses the French school systems rise and fall over the past 30 years as evidence for this approach to teaching and learning. As a teacher who is struggling to make sense of the ambiguous skill-based standards in the common core, Hirsch's point of view made a lot of sense.
Hirsch uses a vast range of surveys about to analyse the devastating education policies in the USA after 1960, in France after 1989, in Sweden and partially in de UK. Theorists like Dewey, Bourdieu, Derida started them to close the gap between the advanced and deretoriated pupils. Instead they widened it dramatically and even the advanced lost capabilities. The skills came in stead of contenance. Hirsch investigates which mechanisms are to blame. In the meanwhile politicians and "education experts" are following the same path in other countries.