To the Editor:
Tony Wagner’s Jan. 11, 2006, Commentary, “Rigor on Trial,” claims an opposition between memorizing facts and analysis. This is one of those progressive axioms that have been hammered into our heads for over 50 years even though they are false. There is no opposition between memorizing facts and analysis.
Students who have more facts generally write more-compelling analyses. As a result of this endless carping against facts, students today know fewer facts than ever, and multiple-choice questions generally have gotten easier. Paralleling this development, glittering generalities have become commonplace in high school writing, along with unsubstantiated and overgeneralized opinions. For example, as state standards in New York have “gone up,” the Regents exams have become easier and easier. Those exams are a joke to hundreds of teachers, especially teachers of the talented and gifted.
Could it be that the back-to-basics movement is providing a needed correction for progressive excesses? Could it be that E.D. Hirsch Jr. and his ilk are holding out the real promise of a content-driven curriculum in which analysis and, yes, rigor flow readily out of the meat and potatoes of real knowledge and a self-controlled life?
Is there anyone left at Harvard University to challenge the assumptions of their colleague Mr. Wagner and his cohorts?
E. Jeffrey Ludwig
A version of this article appeared in the March 01, 2006 edition of Education Week as Let Us Stop the ‘Endless Carping Against Facts’