City Journal Summer 2014

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Sol Stern
The Redemption of E. D. Hirsch « Back to Story

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to bad not a single school in nyc appears to be adopting CK. They are all sticking with the reading and writing workshop model, and throwing in a few random non-fiction books - e.g., the omnivores curriculum. I have visited 8 middle schools this fall, and not one has an ELA curriculum in which the students collectively read works of literature.
Your article brought joy to me on multiple levels. I am one of those 26 year veterans who on his first day of teaching in 1987 was given dictionaries, two anthologies with great works of literature, a great language/spelling book, and a grammar text; and, hold on to your hat, a September to June curriculum, put together entirely by very competent Assistant Principal, the likes of which I have not seen in 15 years. No one can imagine how I fought the "open classroom." I witnessed an army of good teachers be run out of the classroom in the name of that progressive movement. I watched that movement be beaten back in the 80's only to see it rise again in NYC, then beaten back again. I lived this war over the decades. I am 4 years from retirement, but I was 19 when I first saw the open classroom, progressive model in a little school in Park Slope called The Woodward Park School.
Sorry, Stern. Hirsch was brilliant, but, sadly he has not been vindicated. Educators aren't embracing Common Core because they embrace Hirsch's ideas; they're embracing it for the opportunity to centralize the curriculum.
So it's not that common standards/learning is bad - but the issue of who decides what those standards are. In some ways, isn't that decided by the national college measurement tests, such as the ACT/SAT? Those who score well, have learned not only the core information required, such as how to find "X", but how to move up from that knowledge. Irrespective of the Common Core basis? Unfortunately, as in many government decided actions, the base becomes the ceiling.
Woody,

I am glad you asked to be corrected, because you certainly need to be, as do so many on the right now who, apparently, cannot even distinguish between Hirsch's stress on a core of content knowledge and the Common Core standards. Hirsch of course supports those Common Core standards, but he is quite clear that they are not the core content-rich curriculumm he wants to see, and he is clear that such a solid and consistent content knowledge core must be provided if the Common Core literacy standards are to be implemented properly.

What neither his desired core curriculum nor the Common Core standards have is any leftist bias at all. Where this idea comes from, other than the fever swamps of right-wing paranoia escapes me, as I have read every one of the CC literacy standards and find no political focus to them at all, except for occasional illustrative example, such as the reference in one to teaching students to understand the evolution of such terms as "faction" in Madison's Federalist 10. I assume you have no objection to schools teaching students about Madison and the Federalist Papers.

So when it comes to propaganda, I would stop worrying about leftist propaganda and worry more about the anti-Common Core type of propaganda floating around the internet these days. It is far more prevalent.
Steven T. Corneliussen December 08, 2013 at 5:53 PM
Amen, Mr. Stern. Long ago I taught freshman composition and similar courses for seven years. When I began, I believed that writing was an abstract skill, unrelated to the writer's general knowledge. By the end, I had come to believe that lack of general knowledge severely hobbles writing--which of course inherently means also that ignorance severely hobbles what are called "critical thinking skills." A colleague, upon hearing my semi-coherent new view, introduced me to an early paper by E. D. Hirsch, who had elucidated and gone far beyond my own halting struggle to understand these dynamics. Decades later, I still believe Professor Hirsch has it right. I would add: though I believe teachers and others who charge that high-stakes testing is mishandled and overdone, I don't believe the part where some of them dismiss the importance of knowing, whether or not by memorizing, common basic facts. Thanks for this well-crafted summary of Professor Hirsch's importance.
Steven T. Corneliussen
Please correct me if I am in error regarding common core. As it is now taught it simply substitutes leftist propaganda as its common core for fact-based history so who has won here?
Please correct me if I am in error regarding common core. As it is now taught it simply substitutes leftist propaganda as its common core for fact-based history so who has won here?
MY oldest son is 21 years old and when he was close to entering Kindergarten, I read the book: The Schools We Need and Why We Don't Have Them. AT that moment, I decided my kids would never enter a public school.

We chose parochial schools instead.

Sadly we are now seeing the dumbing down of the parochial schools because they are using the Common Core aligned textbooks.

Like all progressive agendas, they push the TOP ...down.

That's what you are missing with the support of Common Core.
Zeke from Cabin Creek December 08, 2013 at 1:33 PM
Dear Carol,

Its really sad when you have to use these pages to brag about your children. My guess is that they would've done very well without home schooling and I have nothing against home schooling, but in this case it was just a great opportunity to crow about what high achievers they are and believe me, having a child in school, I've observed more than my share of this kind of behavior.
Amazing --This explains why the lefties fought so hard against Bush's No Child Left Behind curriculum. It was not a case of which method can produce the best results----it was a case of which method can produce the lefty's version of the best results.
We homeschooled until grades 9 & 10 for our 2 kids, using the Hirsch "What Your First(& Second & Third etc) Grader Needs to Know" as supplemental materials, could be read a tidbit at a time, very interesting.When they started classroom school in HS, they did very well, had a background of fact-filled content. They continued to achieve, NHS, Honor Rolls, AP classes & excellent SATs & APs including credit hours to both start college as Honors College sophomores ... Now they are an attorney & an Ivy League Doctoral student in Molecular Biology w/ full support, stipend & health insurance.
Sol Stern painted an accurate portrait of today's "progressive" education and its devastating consequences for American cultural literacy and citizenship.

In my thirty-five years as a college professor I have observed the decline in core knowledge first-hand. These days, I feel fortunate to meet a student who has a historically factual grasp of America's founding and an understanding of what makes this country unique. Today's students' knowledge about America is largely refracted through the lens of identity politics, that is, the politics of race, gender, and sexual orientation. "Social justice" and activist agendas guide much of the college curriculum and pass for elevated knowledge.

A sad scenario indeed -- but not one beyond hope. As long as there are reform-minded individuals and organizations that are not afraid to challenge today's highly politicized curricula, not all is lost.
"I had not thought death had undone so many.." T.S. Eliot
,,, having stepped foot: No, set.

... to reeducate: This verb does not belong to the vocabulary of a gentleman. It would be fine, however, for the Khmer Rouge and their ilk (all the varieties of communist persuasion).

Education is broken beyond redemption; only crushing the system will do. Everything else are just notes in the margin.
Really ???

"Until the Common Core Standards arrived, Hirsch and his supporters had little luck convincing school districts that the key to lifting student academic achievement is a coherent, grade-by-grade curriculum."

That's been the central focus, together with lesson plan improvements, since the days of John Dewey. Achieving a "productive buzz" instead of silence, a read-understand-apply system -- that's the mainstay for American education for a century.

Also, teaching use of Inductive Logic was once given a high priority. That's learning to think, to evaluate evidence. We don't want to give that up so's our kids can do marginally better at regurgitating "Jeopardy" answers.

Civil War battles ??? Far less important than being able to read it when somebody's lying to you or pushing a popular hoax.
The good folks writing for City Journal have only a few constant themes – stories about cities (seems logical given their publication’s name) and stories about public education. But completely lost among the charter schools, magnet schools, special schools and New York City schools analysis are a few fundamental truths. First, our American Progressives in control of today’s education science are anything but progressive in their thinking, they hate needed change, they’re firmly rooted in the past, they’re deeply suspicious of social experiments which actually involve novel ideas - and they firmly believe widespread education reforms should sound very appealing but leave everything the way it was in the last century.

Second, basic education science - (everything must be a “science” nowadays to command the big bucks) - has remained unchanged for 100,000 years. Sweet Miss Ugg stands in front of a group of students patiently lecturing, cave kids listen respectfully - no grunting, scratching or spitting (spitballs weren’t yet invented). Bad classroom behavior means being sent to Principal Knobclub for discipline.

The curriculum was basic survival skills with a heavy emphasis on survival – running, hiding, basic fire starting, AP fire starting classes for the gifted students. Remedial education was not yet needed, Mother Nature quickly eliminated those needing remedial anything. What has actually changed within the last 100,000 years? Hasn’t it remained one adult speaking, children listening? Is that not how our species prefers to pass on knowledge – isn’t this teaching pattern rooted deep within our racial memory?

Public education was an idea which evolved slowly but our Founding Fathers strongly believed widespread education was indispensable for a self-governing people. Citizens must vote and required education to understand the various issues and what was in their best interest. Education assured the average voter could read, comprehend and select the wisest course and the most worthy candidates – another idea our Founding Fathers got completely wrong.

And while stories about modern education replete with endless and miniscule procedural details are amusing, what has actually changed during the last 100,000 years? One teacher, many students concept is still around. Knowledge passed on through verbal lectures supplemented with books is still around. Native Americans passed on knowledge to their kids through instructive verbal legends. Cave paintings were the earliest form of books and long before designer backpacks were invented.

Our kids are our greatest resource but this ongoing obsession with the trivia of teaching procedures is not social progress, although it is exceedingly Progressive. Conservatives invented Miss Ugg standing in front of a cave painting lecturing on the lessons contained within the drawings. Progressives invented the Teaching Certificate rigmarole many millennia later – but what has really changed?
Good article replete with fierce appreciation of Hirsch. The part not addressed but implicit in the idea of a content rich education is the imposition of realistically demanding standards that hold within them the possibilities of passing and, gasp, failing.
Standing right next to ED Hirsch should be Sigfreid Englemann, whose work on Direct Instruction is highly effective and EFFICIENT (not that the ed world is aware of that concept). They are both about as popular as skunks at a lawn party, as far as the progressive, ed-school-controlled public school world is concerned. Imagine, knowledgeable teachers explicitly teaching kids the subject matter necessary for full literacy, numeracy and active citizenship; what heresy!
Education is too far gone for recovery. We are seeing the destruction of Western Civilization through progressive liberalism who wish to elevate third world culture.