Hirsch To Publish 'Cultural Literacy' Curriculum for Grades 1-6

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E.D. Hirsch Jr., the author of the best seller that added the term "cultural literacy" to the national lexicon, is taking his ideas a step further by putting forth a grade-by-Fade curriculum for teaching every child the knowledge needed to "join the club" and become a literate American.

The first of a series of books by Mr. Hirsch on what children should be taught in grades 1 through 6 is scheduled to be published next week by the Doubleday division of the Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group. Through his nonprofit Core Knowledge Foundation, Mr. Hirsch is also developing and pilot-testing a complete core curriculum for students in kindergarten through 6th grade in 20 Florida elementary schools.

These efforts expand on the ideas set down in Mr. Hirsch's widely debated 1987 book, Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know, which put forth the theory that literate Americans share a core body of knowledge that can be catalogued and taught. The book received the most attention--and criticism--for a listing of those common bits of information, which was included in an appendix. Mr. Hirsch compiled the list through surveys of adults he deemed literate.

The new series, beginning with What Your 1st Grader Needs to Know and What Your 2nd Grader Needs to Know, are intended for parents and teachers. Parents are encouraged to read the books to their children in small installments, and teachers are invited to use them as a starting point for creating their own lesson plans on the topics included.

"In this period of our national life," writes Mr. Hirsch in an introduction to the books, "to ensure that all young children possess a core of shared knowledge is a fundamental reform that, while not sufficient by itself to achieve excellence and fairness in schooling, is nonetheless a necessary step in developing a first rate educational system in the United States."

"The idea is not this is what children ought to learn," Mr. Hirsch added in an interview, 'but this is what they need to 'join the club.'"

Non-Western Cultures

Using Mr. Hirsch's books, 1st graders would learn, for example, about the early history of Egypt, Babylon, and the major religions. They would be taught how deciduous and evergreen trees differ and read "Cinderella" and "The Three Billy Goats Gruff."

A 2nd-grade pupil, according to Mr. Hirsch, should be expected to understand fractions, discuss the architecture of the Parthenon, and know the origins of Greek tragedy.

Like Cultural Literacy, the new curriculum projects are expected to generate skepticism among some educators. Critics of the earlier book, for example, took Mr. Hirsch to task for emphasizing the teaching of "rote" facts and focusing heavily on Western civilization.

In his forthcoming books, Mr. Hirsch addresses at least one of those criticisms by including more about the achievements of nonWestern cultures. Students would be taught, for example, about Mae Jemison, the country's first black female astronaut-in-training, and about riots, or African storytellers.

"In my first book, I was trying to describe American culture as it then stood, rather offer a prescription for what a person ought to know," said Mr. Hirsch, who is the Linden Kent Professor of English at the University of Virginia. "What I've come to realize was that to include that kind of information was not as prescriptive as I had thought; there was a kind of new consensus, and I was five or six years behind where I should've been."

The remaining books in the series, concluding at the 6th-grade level, are scheduled to be published in 1993 and 1994.

Pilot Test in Florida

Mr. Hirsch's complete curriculum, meanwhile, was used for the first time this past school year at Three Oaks Elementary School in Fort Myers, Fla. The Hirsch curriculum accounts for about half of what is taught there, according to Constance Jones, the school's principal.

This year, another 19 elementary schools in the school district are expected to adopt the curriculum.

Mr. Hirsch said the sequence was developed by comparing the list published in Cultural Literacy with national curricula in a number of other countries, including Sweden, France, and Japan. A committee of scholars also recommended multicultural information to add to the list. And groups of teachers in two states reviewed the resulting master list to determine which topics should be introduced at each grade level.

About 100 educators, parents, and experts from a variety of disciplines met in 1990 to pare down the resulting list and determine the final sequence, according to Mr. Hirsch.

"We're not pretending to be the whole story," said Mr. Hirsch, who donates all the proceeds from his commercial books to the foundation. "But you've got to have something concrete and manageable in order to go forward."

Vol. 11, Issue 01, Page 14

Published in Print: September 4, 1991, as Hirsch To Publish 'Cultural Literacy' Curriculum for Grades 1-6
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