. . . . It’s the only way to be sure.
E.D. Hirsch, Jr. is, according to Wikipedia:
. . . a U.S. educator and academic literary critic. Now retired, he was until recently the University Professor of Education and Humanities and the Linden Kent Memorial Professor of English Emeritus at the University of Virginia. He is best known for his writings about cultural literacy.
It states further:
In 1977 Hirsch published The Philosophy of Composition, an investigation into the question of what makes prose more or less readable. His work on composition led to a major shift in his career. While giving tests of relative readability at two colleges in Virginia, he discovered that while the relative readability of a text was an important factor in determining comprehension, an even more important consideration was background knowledge. Students at the University of Virginia were able to understand a passage on Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee, while students at a community college struggled with it, apparently lacking basic understanding of the American Civil War. This and related discoveries led Hirsch to formulate the concept of cultural literacy — the idea that reading comprehension requires not just formal decoding skills but also wide-ranging background knowledge. He concluded that schools should not be neutral about what is taught but should teach a highly specific curriculum that would allow children to understand things writers take for granted.
Hirsch founded the Core Knowledge Foundation in 1986, and wrote Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs To Know in 1987. He also co-wrote The Dictionary of Cultural Literacy in 1988. Cultural Literacy became a best-seller, but Hirsch’s ideas were extremely controversial. Although himself a liberal, he was attacked as a neo-conservative and advocate for a conservative, lily-white curriculum, a promoter of “drill and kill” pedagogy and a reactionary force. His theories have been criticized for not addressing supposed differences in learning styles and for a lack of information about minorities.
Beginning in 1997 Hirsch began publishing books in the Core Knowledge Series. Each book focuses on the content knowledge that should be taught to each particular elementary grade level. There are different books covering kindergarten through sixth grades, plus at least one book outlining an overview of what should be covered in the whole elementary curriculum.
In 1996, Hirsch published The Schools We Need and Why We Don’t Have Them. In it, Hirsch proposed that Romanticized, anti-knowledge theories of education prevalent in America are not only the cause of America’s lackluster educational performance, but also a cause of widening inequalities in class and race. Hirsch portrays the focus of American educational theory as one which attempts to give students intellectual tools such as “critical thinking skills”, but which denigrates teaching any actual content, labeling it “mere rote learning”. Hirsch states that it is this attitude which has failed to develop knowledgeable students.
(Bold emphasis is mine.) Professor Hirsch has a new book out, The Making of Americans: Democracy and Our Schools, and was recently interviewed by National Review Online‘s John J. Miller for NRO‘s Between the Covers series. I’ve transcribed some of that interview, which largely echoes the Wikipedia entry, but here goes:
John J. Miller: Professor Hirsch, when it comes to the education of young children, from kindergarten through elementary up through middle school, what is America doing fundamentally wrong?
E.D. Hirsch, Jr.: What they’re doing fundamentally wrong is not having a cumulative and sequenced curriculum. That seems unbelievable perhaps to somebody outside the education world, but for the last more than half-century there has been no definite curriculum. There has been no commonality, not just across schools, but within schools. from one classroom to another. Students will be studying different things, and that, I think, has been the chief problem both in the quality of our better students – which is not always very high – and in the great gap that has developed between blacks and Hispanics on one side and whites and Asians on the other.
JJM: Shouldn’t you just focus on critical thinking skills as opposed to the memorization of names and dates?
EDH.: Thank you for asking that question. That is the current doctrine of the schools, that schools should be focusing on critical thinking skills rather than mere facts, and that idea that such a thing is possible has been exploded by cognitive science and that’s basically the reason – that is the formal isolable skills that are independent of any particular domain – that idea has been shown to be wrong. And if you’re operating on a wrong idea, it’s a sufficient explanation as to why the school system has not been working.
But the philosophy cannot be wrong! Do it again, only HARDER!
JJM: What should the schools be doing differently?
EDH: Well, just as a general point before I mention that, ideas are so terribly important in this field. (John Maynard) Keynes once said “the world is ruled by little else.” It’s certainly true in our educational system. You asked what I’d do differently to overcome this incoherence of content. I would have a core curriculum in the early grades, a very specific, very definite core. Shouldn’t take up more than fifty percent of the school time, but that would enable a teacher to deal constructively with a new incoming class, because the students would have a basis for the next lesson. Now teacher’s jobs – people talk about teacher quality quite a lot – but the job of a teacher gets increasingly difficult, veering on impossibility as you go up the grades in an American school because of this diversity of preparation.
JJM: This core curriculum would consist of what?
EDH: Well, it should consist – first of all it should focus on content areas of the standard academic subjects. Science, history and the arts, and math. But in the language arts section – the arts include literature, of course – the language arts section has been a repository for the early grades of a lot of wasted time, and there I believe that the focus on language should be a focus on knowledge, because that’s what cognitive science is saying should be happening now.
JJM: And what are we doing wrong right now? Are teachers just randomly assigning different stories with no particular rationale?
EDH: Yes, that’s right. Well, there’s no particular rationale for the stories. The rationale is for the idea that they are learning process skills: finding the main idea, questioning the author, learning how to squeeze meaning out of text without having the needed background knowledge and vocabulary to comprehend the text. So obviously to common sense, common sense would say that wouldn’t work, and obviously it doesn’t work.
And he’s quite right about that. The one thing that I’ve noted about the really bright people on the web today is their wide-ranging knowledge and the amount of reading they’ve done to achieve it. This is done outside the formal education system – in spite of it, in fact.
JJM: In the 1980’s you wrote an influential book called Cultural Literacy. What was that book about, and have Americans become more or less culturally literate since then?
EDH: Well, the trend line . . . We can judge that by the reading scores of twelfth graders in the National Assessment of Educational Progress, and the trend line has been a gentle downward slope, so the implication is that we’ve become, we share less common knowledge among each other. And that’s not surprising given the diversity of inputs since the internet developed.
JJM: And your point would be that the schools need to teach cultural literacy to children so that there are common areas of knowledge that they share as Americans.
EDH: Yes, and though I don’t use that term “cultural literacy” because I found it was a hot-button term. I leave out the term “culture” now because we’re talking about the “public sphere” is the term I use in this new book which is a more accurate description in a way. Cultures are what our American public sphere holds together, a lot of diverse cultures and points of view, and that was actually the Founders conception. And I like John Ralston’s (sp?) description of that; this larger commonality is a social union of social unions. But this wider public sphere is held together by language, and language can only function on the basis of shared knowledge that isn’t spoken, just taken for granted. That’s the only way communication can occur.
And that “shared knowledge that isn’t spoken, just taken for granted” IS CULTURE.
Remember that quote from Jane Jacobs?
People living in vigorous cultures typically treasure those cultures and resist any threat to them. How and why can a people so totally discard a formerly vital culture that it becomes literally lost?
Every culture takes pains to educate its young so that they, in their turn, can practice and transmit it completely. Our civilization, however, is failing to do that. On the contrary, we are systematically training our young not to embrace the culture that brought us greatness.
And a civilization is truly dead, she says, when “even the memory of what has been lost is lost.”
That’s what Professor Hirsch is describing here, the deliberate, systematic training of our young not to embrace the culture that brought us greatness.
JJM: It sounds like a retreat saying we can no longer speak of “cultural literacy.” Of course it was a hot-button issue, but that doesn’t mean it was wrong.
EDH: Well, it depends. My general point there is you have to choose words carefully so that people don’t make the wrong assumptions. “Cultural literacy,” seems, people think of it as “cultural imperialism” which will get in the way of your own familial culture. There is a national culture, but it’s a different – in the United States it’s a different kind of culture. It’s limited, it’s tolerant . . . For example in France schoolgirls can’t wear headscarves. That’s a problem that would never arise significantly in the United States. ‘No, no, that’s your culture, you can come to school and wear headscarves.’ It’s a very accommodating public sphere, and if you want to call it a national or federal culture, that’s OK, it wouldn’t be inaccurate. But I think it’s preferable to understand that there is this national or federal dimension in our life that we also share, and you can call it a culture if you like, but you don’t have to.
“. . . you have to choose words carefully so that people don’t make the wrong assumptions.” But what if they deliberately make those assumptions? If you challenge their worldview, they must interpret your ideas as an attack and respond accordingly. Note that Hirsch states in the opening paragraph of this interview that for more than half a century there has been no “definite curriculum” taught in the public schools, and as I have quoted John Taylor Gatto, he sets the date for the full-court press of this onslaught to 1965. I put the beginnings of it with John Dewey and the first decades of the 20th Century.
JJM: In this new book, The Making of Americans, you have a line I’d like to read: “One of the greatest disappointments I have felt in the twenty-five years that I have been actively engaged in education reform is the frustration of being warmly welcomed by conservatives but shunned by fellow liberals.” Why has this gone on, and isn’t it obvious by now that you should join us conservatives on the Right?
EDH: (laughing) Well, in one dimension I have. That is, being a social liberal is not inconsistent with being an educational conservative. And I think myself that’s a very cogent position to hold. And I think in fact my complaint about my fellow democrats is that if they have equal justice or equality of opportunity in education as one of their affirmed aims, then they have to be educational conservatives because that’s the only way to achieve equal educational opportunity. That’s why I’m in the position I’m in.
He’s ==><== this close. He can see the logical disconnect, but he cannot make the cognitive leap.
Bill Whittle did an interesting video essay recently that at the end strongly recommended his viewers to watch a three-piece series on YouTube about the Frankfurt School and “the history of political correctness.” I’d heard of the Frankfurt School, but these three pieces are quite interesting, particularly when they discuss “critical theory.” From Part 1:
When the First World War began in 1914 the worker’s loyalty to their country proved stronger than their so-called “class consciousness.” They willingly put on their uniforms, French or German, Austrian or Russian or British, and marched off by the millions to fight each other. In 1917 a Marxist revolution did occur in Russia, but it failed to spread to Western Europe, again contradicting orthodox Marxist theory. At the war’s end, Marxist theorists had to confront the question, “What had gone wrong?” Antonio Gramsci of Italy and György Lukács of Hungary believed they had the answer. Gramsci and Lukács argued that Western culture had blinded the working class to its true Marxist class interests. Before a Marxist revolution could take place, Western culture had to be destroyed. In 1919 Lukács, who was considered the most brilliant Marxist theorist since Marx himself, asked “Who will save us from Western civilization?”
. . . in Germany a new attempt to create a Marxist critique of Western culture was taking shape. There, the wealthy young son of a millionaire grain trader, Felix Weil, wanted to establish a public policy institute, a think-tank to serve as a home for advanced Marxist thought. Modeled on the Marx-Engels Institute in Moscow, Weil’s think-tank was originally to be named The Institute for Marxism. Martin Jay, chairman of the history department at Berkeley and author of a history of the Frankfurt School, explains why the name was changed to the Institut für Sozialforschung – the Institute for Social Research:
“I think they were very interested in trying to avoid being overly labeled, so it’s a fairly bland name, “The Institute for Social Research.”
The Institute was affiliated with Frankfurt University in Frankfurt, Germany, and in time became known simply as “The Frankfurt School.”
Following Lukács’ lead, the Frankfurt school would be the vehicle that translated Marxism from economic into cultural terms, giving us what we now know as “political correctness.”
And Hirsch, with his educational conservatism, his attempt to pass on to our children our national culture, “that shared knowledge that isn’t spoken, just taken for granted,” isn’t politically correct and thus must be SHUNNED!
Remember back when I posted the 1985 video interview of former Soviet spy Yuri Bezmenov? Bezmenov stated that his job involved the implementation of “Ideological subversion,” which he defined as follows (transcribed by Useless Dissident):
(Ideological subversion is) a great brainwashing process, which goes very slow[ly] and is divided [into] four basic stages. The first one being demoralization; it takes from 15-20 years to demoralize a nation. Why that many years? Because this is the minimum number of years which [is required] to educate one generation of students in the country of your enemy, exposed to the ideology of the enemy. In other words, Marxist-Leninist ideology is being pumped into the soft heads of at least three generations of American students, without being challenged, or counter-balanced by the basic values of Americanism (American patriotism).
The result? The result you can see. Most of the people who graduated in the sixties, drop-outs, or half-baked intellectuals, are now occupying the positions of power in the government, civil service, business, mass media, [and the] educational system. You are stuck with them. You cannot get rid of them. They are contaminated; they are programmed to think and react to certain stimuli in a certain pattern. You cannot change their mind[s], even if you expose them to authentic information, even if you prove that white is white and black is black, you still cannot change the basic perception and the logic of behavior. In other words, these people… the process of demoralization is complete and irreversible. To [rid] society of these people, you need another twenty or fifteen years to educate a new generation of patriotically-minded and common sense people, who would be acting in favor and in the interests of United States society.
The demoralization process in [the] United States is basically completed already. For the last 25 years…(this interview occurred in 1985) actually, it’s over-fulfilled because demoralization now reaches such areas where previously not even Comrade Andropov and all his experts would even dream of such a tremendous success. Most of it is done by Americans to Americans, thanks to [a] lack of moral standards.
As I mentioned before, exposure to true information does not matter anymore. A person who was demoralized is unable to assess true information. The facts tell nothing to him. Even if I shower him with information, with authentic proof, with documents, with pictures; even if I take him by force to the Soviet Union and show him [a] concentration camp, he will refuse to believe it, until he [receives] a kick in his fan-bottom. When a military boot crashes his… then he will understand. But not before that. That’s the [tragedy] of the situation of demoralization.
So basically America is stuck with demoralization and unless… even if you start right now, here, this minute, you start educating [a] new generation of American[s], it will still take you fifteen to twenty years to turn the tide of ideological perception of reality back to normalcy and patriotism.
The conclusion of the NRO interview:
JJM: Are schools of education and the way we train teachers part of the problem here?
EDH: They’re the central problem. The reason we’re doing the things we do in our schools, and things that have failed like not having a coherent curriculum, are based on ideas. And those ideas are promulgated in schools of education, they’re indoctrinated – teachers are indoctrinated with them, and no conflicting or contrary ideas are really entertained or promoted. In fact, other kinds of ideas which would allow for a solid curriculum are seen as immoral, inhumane, teacher-centered rather than child-centered. And yes, I think that the education schools since the, really since the early part of the twentieth century have uniformly worked against a solid curriculum in the early grades, which is the thing mostly needed by our system.
(My emphasis.) And those ideas came from Gramsci and Lukács, and were intended specifically to destroy Western culture.
Like a fish immersed, unable to notice the water in which it swims, Hirsch is unable to see that his fellow liberals cannot accept educational conservatism, because the goal is not to “achieve equal educational opportunity,” but instead to demoralize the nation – to, in fact, destroy its culture, not preserve it. The end being chased is not to achieve communication, but to prevent it. As Bezmenov put it: A person who (is) demoralized is unable to assess true information. The facts tell nothing to him.
That’s the GOAL.
It’s been working for decades, and they’re not about to stop now.
UPDATE: Isn’t this an interesting coincidence? City Journal has an article out just today on Professor Hirsch, E. D. Hirsch’s Curriculum for Democracy. An excerpt:
Hirsch did his graduate studies at Yale, one of the citadels in the 1950s of the New Criticism, which argued that the intent of an author, the reader’s subjective response, and the text’s historical background were largely irrelevant to a critical analysis of the text itself.
The “New Criticism” being the outcome of the Frankfurt School’s “critical theory”, described as:
. . . a social theory oriented toward critiquing and changing society as a whole, in contrast to traditional theory oriented only to understanding or explaining it.
Well they’ve certainly succeeded in that.
Hirsch was at the pinnacle of the academic world, in his mid-fifties, when he was struck by an insight into how reading is taught that, he says, “changed my life.” He was “feeling guilty” about the department’s inadequate freshman writing course, he recalls. Though UVA’s admissions standards were as competitive as the Ivies’, the reading and writing skills of many incoming students were poor, sure to handicap them in their future academic work. In trying to figure out how to close this “literacy gap,” Hirsch conducted an experiment on reading comprehension, using two groups of college students. Members of the first group possessed broad background knowledge in subjects like history, geography, civics, the arts, and basic science; members of the second, often from disadvantaged homes, lacked such knowledge. The knowledgeable students, it turned out, could far more easily comprehend and analyze difficult college-level texts (both fiction and nonfiction) than their poorly informed brethren could.
So if the problem is that the proletariat is blinded to their Marxist class interests because of the bourgeoisie, and that the world needs to be saved from Western Civilization, wouldn’t it be easier to eliminate the bourgeoisie by making them as ignorant and uneducated as the proletariat, thus destroying Western Civilization?
It certainly fits all the available evidence.