Due to the current state (as we have come to know it) of the US educational system, much governmental, institutional and parental attention has been concentrated upon methods for creating positive change.
Referred to as ‘Educational Reforms’, these then are comprehensive plansmovements designed to cultivate a systematic change pertaining to either educational theories or practices within communalsocietal settings.
Within ‘classical times’, Plato, et al. authority figures shunned the idea of formalized (compulsory) learning for they felt children would only participate in lessons should they have a genuine desire to learn.
Within modern day times, however, the idea of educational reforms (‘principles’ that became prevalent only after education was formalized to the point of being ‘reformed’) reverberated back to the idea of compulsory learning.
B. Reform Efforts in the 1980s
In the 1980s, coming on the heels of the previously discussed, ‘A Nation at Risk’ under the guise of President Ronald Reagan, the educational reform momentum shifted from the left to the right whereby the President was focused on reducing (or even completing eliminating) the United States Department of Education.
In the latter half of the 80s, educational reform pioneer, E.D. Hirsch, put forth an argument against several versions of progressive education, advocating for a return to ‘cultural literacy’.
C. Hirsch’s ‘Core Knowledge’
Entitling his beliefs, ‘Core Knowledge’, Hirsch emphasized specific information he felt was critical for students to learn and master. From Hirsch’s viewpoint, such knowledge should encompass topics the likes of: principles of constitutional government; mathematics and language skills; major events in world history; and respected masterpieces from the worlds of art, music and literature. All in all, Hirsch believed such a comprehensive curriculum would make for an ‘everlasting body’ of knowledge.
In total, Hirsch’s ‘Core Knowledge’ encapsulated eight key theories:
- Theory of Value–Hirsch felt it was important for children to acquire an expansive vocabulary for it served as a building block to gaining broad-based knowledge, which, over time, was pivotal for learning new ideas and concepts. Connecting his ‘core knowledge’ with classroom learning, Hirsch contended that the overarching mission of ‘formalized schooling’ should be to promote literacy as a competency that fosters additional learning. Also based upon Hirsch’s theory was the idea that ‘general, broad-based knowledge’, inclusive of lots of facts, should be a principal goal of education for, regardless of a student’s background, it proves to increase people’s intellectual competency in all areas of life.
- Theory of Knowledge–in Hirsch’s mind, knowledge was the equivalent of ‘intellectual capital’-defined as the knowledge and skill a person possesses at a given moment. Similar to the idea of money as capital, the greater degree of knowledge and skill a person possesses, the greater amounts of these attributes they are able to acquire.
Hirsch took this idea a step further by saying that the ideas of formalism and naturalism are incorrect.
In his view, formalism was explained as ‘the belief that the contentcurriculum learned in school (intellectual capital) is far less important than the acquisition of formal tools that allow a student to learn future content. Hirsch explained ‘naturalism’ as the belief that education is an organic process with its own innate nuances and tempos whereby students learn in their own way and at their own rates. As such, Hirsch felt that naturalism was most effective when linked with real-life goal setting. Based upon Hirsch’s philosophy, schooling is foreseen as being ineffective and spiritually detrimental for it goes against the ‘natural’ process.
- Theory of Human Nature-Hirsch’s contention was that it was important to reinstate the archived notions that ‘all human communities are founded upon specific shared information’ and ‘the basic goal of education in a human community is acculturation.’Because Hirsch strongly supported the idea that the modern world required a literate culture, he felt that to achieve effective communications among humans, our society needed to teach youngsters about the shared symbols and the information these symbols represented. Additionally, pertaining to the ‘theory of human nature’, Hirsch made such powerful statements as:
- Children in American schools must master the English language. A failure to do so in the use of speech and writing could drastically limit one’s potential for opportunity, freedom and income.
- Natural talent will only get a person so far in life. In order to succeed, one must accept the idea of hard work and be fully committed to the task at hand.
- Theory of Learning-supporting the idea that ‘learning builds upon learning’, Hirsch contented that the more a person knows, the more heshe can learn. He used the analogy of ‘velcro’ to create the visual image whereby additional knowledge attaches (sticks to) to existing knowledge. Building upon this theme, Hirsch emphasized the idea that all learning requires effort in the form of both attention and repetition. His view was that regardless of the amount of innate academic ability a child has, he or she needs ‘instruction’ to effectively learn new ideas. In this sense, drill and practice are absolute necessities for learning. And, such lessons need to be directly monitored by the instructor otherwise learning will not occur.
- Theory of Transmission-good teachers are foreseen that way so long a they are generally competent people with a great deal of knowledge to share.
Highly important to Hirsch was the idea that both current teachers within US schools and future teachers should do away with ancient teaching philosophies based upon educational naturalism ideas (students’ innate abilities) in favor of a core, common curriculum focused on very specific, shared body of knowledge. To support this notion, Hirsch developed the Core Knowledge Sequence for grades K-8. This curriculum now comprises nearly 50% of participating schools’ curriculum. An ardent believer in ‘whole-class instruction’ he felt that that the goal of meeting students’ individual needs in the classroom has greatly faltered for if a teacher has 22 students in a classroom and is giving personal attention to one, heshe is failing to connect with the 21 other students.
- Theory of Society-in agreement with ‘The Enlightenment Ideals’ proposed by Thomas Jefferson (later supported by his predecessor Horace Mann), common schools should serve as a means of ‘making everyone a participant in the political and economic marketplace’. As such, it is the duty of these schools to equally provide all children equally with the knowledge and skills to keep them independent and free. And, not an isolated duty, Hirsch believes it is the job of everyone within the field of education to resurrect the promise of public schooling; common schools offering common content need to exist to afford all children with the ability to realize their potential, regardless of their upbringing andor background. Referring back to his Core Knowledge program, Hirsch affirmed the idea that parents and teachers need to be involved in the educational movement.
- Theory of Opportunity-in his Hirsch’s esteemed view, “Giving everybody more knowledge makes everybody more competent, and creates a more just society.”
From this perspective, knowledge becomes the great equalizer whereby the schools have a tremendous opportunity and responsibility to provide students with equal chances to succeed regardless of their background. Note: A recurring theme of Hirsch’s is that the more general knowledge a person possesses, the better apt they are to succeed in life.
This concept relates back to cumulative research findings correlating higher levels of general knowledge (education) with higher levels of income.
- Theory of Consensus-from Hirsch’s perspective, within the educational arena, people tend to disagree based upon their own political agendas. For examples, Democrats tend to side with the ideals of the Progressive education movement whereas Republicans favor the ideals of educational conservatism.
Politically-speaking, while Hirsch views his thinking to be liberal, he also considers himself to be an educational conservative. Thus, Hirsch believes a consensus involving education could conceivably occur if only the educational community simply were to accept the practices of educational conservatism. Throughout the 1990s and leading into the 21st century, Hirsch’s philosophies have retained their relevance. As such, they continue to be incorporated into classroom lessons both through textbooks and curriculum published under Hirsch’s own imprint. D. Hirsch’s Four S’s Outlined within Hirsch’s Core Knowledge, are the four S’s: Solid-although it is true that the knowledge of today will be radically different from the knowledge of tomorrow, there remains a core body of knowledge that retains its status as ‘everlasting.’ The idea of lasting knowledge is then the ‘core’ of Hirsch’s Preschool-Grade 8 curriculum. Included in the content are such components as: the basic principles of constitutional government; important events of world history; essential elements of mathematics and of oral and written expression; widely acknowledged masterpieces of art and music; and stories and poems passed down from generation to generation. Sequenced-connecting back with Hirsch’s core belief that knowledge builds upon knowledge, sequenced learning entails students’ ability to acquire new knowledge by complementing what they already know. Yet, in order for a school system to fairly assess whether a student is performing at an acceptable level within their current grade level, they must first clearly define the knowledge and skill expectancies for students as they successively participate in each grade. Specific-while standard school district curriculum may say, “Students will demonstrate knowledge of all related facts that contributed to the development of the United States, the Core Knowledge Sequence distinguishes which information a student needs to know by basing it upon specific key facts and figures. As such, the Core Knowledge Sequence prides itself on being able to present a practical answer to the question, “What do students truly need to know?” Shared-based upon the core element of Hirsch’s Core Knowledge, ‘literacy is based upon shared knowledge,’ in order for a student to be literate, heshe needs to be familiar with a broad range of general knowledge. Examples of such general knowledge include: “President signed the X bill into law” or “Martin Luther King, Jr. is credited with turning the civil rights movement in the US.” Hirsch felt that children needed to learn specific facts for when such resolute statements are made in the press or media or someone starts up a conversation on one of these topics, it often is assumed the audience already shares certain common knowledge. Therefore, one of the primary goals of the Core Knowledge curriculum is to befit all children, regardless of background, with the shared knowledge they need to become ‘plugged in’ to our national literate culture. E. Examples of Core Knowledge Sequence By grade levels some basic examples of the Core Knowledge Sequence: Kindergarten: Visual Arts inclusive of painting and linecolor usage in such artistic works as Matisse’s, The Purple Robe and Sculpture, the Statue of Liberty. First Grade: World History inclusive of early civilizations, e.g., Ancient Egypt and hieroglyphics and geography, e.g. Africa and the Sahara Desert. Second Grade: American History inclusive of civil rights, e.g., Susan B. Anthony and the right to vote; Martin Luther King, Jr. and the dream of equal rights for all;and Cesar Chavez and the rights of migrant workers. Third Grade: Math inclusive of fractions and geometry, e.g., ability to identify numerators and denominators; write mixed numbers; and identify lines and angles. Fourth Grade: Science inclusive of electricity, electromagnets and purposes of conductive electricity. Fifth Grade: American History and Geography inclusive of: Westward Exploration, Pioneer land routes, and the Mexican War. Sixth Grade: Language Arts inclusive of: fiction and drama, e.g., The Iliad and The Odyssey, The Prince and the Pauper and Julius Caesar; writing of essays and organizing papers based upon a key topic and central outline. Seventh Grade: Music inclusive of classical, e.g., Romantics and Nationalists and American Musical Traditions, e.g., Blues and Jazz. Eighth Grade: Physics inclusive of motion, forces, density and buoyancy, work, energy, power, velocity and speed F. Conclusions The sheer fact that educational reform pioneer, E.D. Hirsch’s philosophies and principles of ‘Core Curriculum’ still hold up today is reason enough to warrant further exploration into his beliefs.
And while there may be points of dissention, overall, Hirsch presents a most compelling argument for familiarizing children with ‘significant’ information upon which they may further build their knowledge base. Without such pivotal knowledge, Hirsch believed children would lack the solid foundation they needed to facilitate future learning and, as such, they would be susceptible to bouts of frustration and inadequacy whereas their educations were concerned. It is difficult to say with 100% certainty whether or not Hirsch’s ‘Core Curriculum’ has the potential to revolutionize the educational system. However, what can be said of his ‘concept’ is that it does offer a fresh take on learning whereby students, based upon their grade levels, have specific knowledge benchmarks to attain.
Such a well-define
d plan helps implement greater structure and accountability by and between all of the interrelated schools and respective teachers.