To the Editor:
A recent article highlighted the accomplishments of E.D. Hirsch Jr.'s influential career (“Cultural Literacy Creator Carries On Campaign,” Oct. 12, 2016). As a former kindergarten teacher and current assistant professor of education, this article really prompted me to think.
On the one hand, readers are rightly encouraged to appreciate Hirsch’s insights regarding the function of content knowledge. He nicely explains that how we think is inseparable from what we know. As a result, informed educators recognize that skills-based standards and standardized tests are never devoid of content knowledge. On the other hand, readers should be cautious of the perils of perpetuating ahistorical and decontextualized education theories.
I would argue that what Core Knowledge—the teaching-content framework Hirsch helped develop in the 1980s that was later expanded into a common-core-aligned curriculum—offers educators is neither a novel perspective on education, nor a thoughtful plan that considers all students, in equal measure, who might be affected by the imposition of an alleged common culture.
In The Knowledge Deficit (2006), Hirsch celebrated the potential he saw in the No Child Left Behind Act. It was his hope that the commanding power of a policy mandate would elevate his voice on the importance of universal content. Now, Hirsch protests that policymakers have not adequately heard his message.
Hirsch has been “beating the drum on a simple idea, though one that’s proved a hard sell” for three decades, as your article puts it. Perhaps it is his unresponsive appraisal of cultural and intellectual diversity that is the issue. Maybe, the time has come for Hirsch to acknowledge that his is not the only drum in the band.
Daniel J. Castner
Early Childhood Education and Teacher Leadership
Annsley Frazier Thornton School of Education
A version of this article appeared in the January 11, 2017 edition of Education Week as Hirsch’s Theories Minimize Value Of Intellectual Diversity