College & Workforce Readiness

E.D. Hirsch on Why Text Complexity Is a ‘Myth’ (Audio Interview)

By Liana Loewus — October 14, 2016 1 min read

What should students learn in school?

The famed yet much-disputed University of Virginia professor who attempted to answer that question 30 years ago—both with a heartfelt defense of the importance of cultural knowledge and a list of the 5,000 facts and ideas students should know—has at 88 years old published a new book. And this time, in addition to again making the plea for teaching content, E.D. Hirsch assails several of the most pervasive education policies of the day. Among his targets is the Common Core State Standards, which, ironically, many say he helped inspire.

I recently spoke with Hirsch for a feature article on both the new book, Why Knowledge Matters: Rescuing Our Children From Failed Educational Theories, and the fact that his long-held and historically controversial ideas are now seeing a resurgence in schools.

Below are some audio excerpts from that wide-ranging conversation. In them, Hirsch discusses how background knowledge affects reading comprehension, why he thinks the common core’s focus on reading complex texts is useless, and what education policymakers can learn from France.

On Text as a “Two-Way Creation” Between Reader and Author

On the “Myth” of Text Complexity

On the “Sad Story” of France, Which Abandoned Its National Curriculum

Image: E.D. Hirsch is photographed in the Rotunda at the University of Virginia. —Christopher Tyree for Education Week

Related Story: Cultural Literacy Creator Carries on Campaign

Education Week correspondent Kavitha Cardoza assisted with production for this piece.


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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.