The Pedagogy of E. D. Hirsch: An Objectively Equal Education
Updated: Feb 17, 2020
What is the purpose of primary education, and what pedagogy best suits this purpose? For E. D. Hirsch Jr., found of the Core Knowledge Foundation, the motto is “educational excellence and equity for all children” (CoreKnowledge). By this Hirsch means “that offering universal access to this shared knowledge is a primary duty of schooling, critical to literacy, and to the closing of the achievement gap between ethnic and racial groups,” with the list of recommended requisite knowledge featured in standardized sequence templates for each grade level in primary and secondary school (CoreKnowledge). In this regard, it seems that this proffered purpose for pedagogy aims to mold citizenship: “Most important of all, we believe that shared knowledge, a shared narrative, and shared ideals of liberty and tolerance are indispensable ingredients for effective citizenship and for the perpetuation of our democratic institutions” (CoreKnowledge). This foundation has been sweeping the nation as an educational tool and standard, owing its existence to the literary theorist turned pedagogical advocate, E. D. Hirsch. Although Hirsch is best known in academic circles for his authorial hermeneutic literary theory, his influence is much grander in the pedagogical domain. His concepts in Cultural Literacy serve as the foundation for the Common Core educational movement by endorsing the necessity of historical background information as the key to comprehensive reading skills. However, Hirsch’s call for a single platform in American education raises controversy over racial multiculturalism, quickly triggering politically and religiously narrated conversations about the intent of streamlining the education of American youth to produce what may be a White Anglo-Saxon Protestant citizenship.
In order to assess and convey both sides on the issue of standardized school curriculums, it is necessary to examine what the key criticisms of Common Core are actually stating, and even more importantly, where those critiques actually derive from. In this manner, a plethora of the primary front runners against Hirschian pedagogy will be used to draw out the main qualms and concerns for instituting Common Core. Amongst these voices are public media opinions, scholarly statements and political assertions. By inserting Hirsch’s declarations of intent and purpose against these critiques, one can more aptly assess where the disagreement lies. Most notably, it becomes clear that Hirschian pedagogy has become the emblem for ideological dispute, driven by public media accounts, rather than a real disagreement on any actual curricula content as outlined in the Common Core Sequence Templates. Additionally, in order to place Hirsch more acutely as liberal or conservative within pedagogical history, a comparative analysis of his educational goals with Matthew Arnold’s trenchant educational values will reveal a much more conservative and non-partisan picture of Hirsch’s pedagogy. Conclusively, one must ultimately look directly to Hirsch and the resultant pedagogy in itself in order to adequately make any qualitative statement on this discrepancy, which necessarily requires removing the assumed to be attached ideologies at play on both sides of the issue.
Hirsch’s literary theory posits the literary Author as the source of the meaning of individual works. This absolute hermeneutical authority is based in the historical situation of the author’s intended meaning, which is a theory often rejected by more modern structuralist arguments in academia. Although his literary theory is viewed as distinct from his pedagogical platform, one can draw comparisons between the two by paralleling his desire for a univocal authority and source for meaning and knowledge. Just as the literary Author serves as a source for answers, Hirsch’s proposed pedagogy places certain core knowledge as the primary and unified standard for education. The uniform ideal of a stable source works in both arenas to advance knowledge in a progressively amalgamative method. The idea of a Canon also works in both arenas by standardizing education in a way that aims to preserve and represent most adequately the cultural history of the field. Just as the literary Canon has been established as the source for those Authors which are the quintessential representatives of the cultural history, the Common Core Curriculum focuses on that knowledge which has been deemed most essential as “indispensable ingredients for effective citizenship and for the perpetuation of our democratic institutions” (CoreKnowledge). In this way, the Core Curriculum is the mode for preserving and perpetuating this continuous conferral of Authority, in which the gatekeepers of the curriculum serve as the authors of the American student, or in their aim, American democratic citizen.
In literary theory, F.W. Bateson harshly criticizes Hirsch “for reducing meaning to the individual consciousness and argues that Hirsch’s ideas about meaning are too individualistic, too slanted towards the individual author, and to that extent are “not only wrong but hyper-American”.” (Tatar 124). However, Hirsch’s transition into pedagogy was much more welcoming. Politico Online Magazine contributes,
“At age 86, educational theorist E.D. Hirsch is finally being rehabilitated… the retired English professor is finding that his ideas, once dismissed wholesale by the educational establishment, are being credited as the intellectual foundation of the national reform movement that has swept the country in recent years, pushing expanded access to preschool and the Common Core state learning standards to improve the chances of America’s poorer children.”
Although Hirsch as a literary theorist is not received nearly as well or broadly as Hirsch as an educational reformist, the Hirschian based Common Core Curriculum as likewise attracted controversy. This Common Core has been adopted by the majority of US states in the public education of our youth, but there remain certain concerns in the general public regarding its current application, as well as dispute over the concepts taken to be the basis for constituting citizenship. Perhaps it is the fact that “For nearly 30 years, he has been labeled a blue-blood elitist and arch-defender of the Dead White European Male” that some critics have maintained this WASP-oriented critique of Hirsch’s work and the public has echoed equal concern that his proposed pedagogy may be just as WASP oriented as his criticized literary theory (Politico). Even Hirsch himself admits, “I’ve been a pariah for so long” (Politico). Although a close study of Hirsch’s literary theory piece, “Objective Interpretation” reveals a phenomenological philosophy that the meaning of texts is determined by their authors and that in interpretation of texts one’s job is to reconstruct this meaning to the most likely position, it seems that the issue is not as easily placated with his pedagogical theory.
The controversy began when The National Governors Association developed common Core in 2009, which created learning standards for grades K-12 in order to better prepare students for post-graduation realities. Hirsch’s philosophy behind the core curriculum, as stated in his own words with an exclusive interview with Amplify Magazine, is as follows:
“What is the knowledge that most gets taken for granted in writing addressed to a general audience in our society today? What is the knowledge possessed by the haves but not by the have-nots? If a chief aim of education is to achieve equality of opportunity, then a critical element in fulfilling that aim is to impart to everyone in school the enabling knowledge that advantaged students often gain outside of school… We determined what students needed to know by the end of high school, and we asked experienced teachers to help us put that knowledge into a coherent school sequence.”
Despite Hirsch’s declaration of honest altruistic intentions of equality in education, conservatives have voiced feeling threatened by the federal overreach of “Obamacore”, and “many on the left still consider universal education standards—whether guidelines or set curricula—a corporate approach that leads teachers to focus too much on rote learning and not enough on creativity and critical thinking” (Politico). Popular education writer, Alfie Kohn, lamented to Politco, “But that bunch-o-facts approach to literacy is simply wrong. You can look up facts. Education should be about teaching children to think.” Other liberals within America’s educational establishment described Hirsch’s Cultural Literacy “‘a new cultural offensive’ aimed at writing the common man out of history” and further described Hirsch himself “as little better than a lone reactionary trying to prevent the tide of multiculturalism from eroding the hegemony of the vanishing WASP” (Politico).
In contrast, defenders of Hirsch recognize his voice as chiefly speaking out against the fragmentation of the polis that rampant “multiculturalism” runs the risk of engendering. Hirsch affirms this in his 2009 book, The Making of Americans, as he “unabashedly confronts the education establishment, arguing that a content-based curriculum is essential to addressing social and economic inequality” (CoreKnowledge). Furthermore, the foundation does not intend to be a strictly enforced militant standard. Rather, they “recognize that every school and community is different, and each student and teacher has individual interests and strengths” and that “schools teaching the Core Knowledge curriculum should still have ample time over the course of the school year to address any additional state or local requirements not reflected in the Core Knowledge Sequence” (CoreKnowledge). In this way, the pedagogy aims to give future American generations the necessary knowledge to effectively enter into discussion with each other and the nation as a whole, not ignore the individual needs of students’ learning process.
Interestingly, Hirsch is a self-proclaimed lifelong Democrat and even goes so far to say “I’m practically a socialist,” (Politico). Hirsch does not at all agree with the descriptions of him as “a neoconservative caricature of contemporary American education” provided by Harvard education professor, Howard Gardner. However, Hirsch seems to be caught in even more controversy regarding issues of racial diversity representation in education, as many critics have cited the great extent that his pedagogy channels the Founding Fathers and the English literary canon. Some complain, “Isn’t championing, say, John Locke over Lao Tzu a choice rife with unspoken values and cultural biases?”, to which Hirsch has replied, “I agree with those who say we have to change American culture, but we cannot do it at the expense of people at the bottom” (Politico). Hirsch extends this answer by arguing, “Vocabulary—and cultural literacy—is shaped by history. There is really nothing to be done about that” (Politico). These answers do not seem to be answers at all though, but rather loopholes through which Hirsch is ready to jump. When questioned further on the changing “complexion” of the American public schools as a majority of students are expected to be non-white this year, Hirsch only had to add, “Why do you think one’s color or ethnicity would affect one’s vocabulary? Without a doubt, Latino culture is having a big influence on America, and the language of culture will change around the margins. But educated conversation is still going on” (Politico).
Hirsch continues in self-defense, stating, “The point wasn’t to perpetuate the culture of power. It was to open the door to kids who don’t have the keys to power” (Politico). Some have come to his defense, such as Kati Haycock of the advocacy group The Education Trust, who admits, “that Hirsch is not a defender of the Dead White Guys but poor kids, all along” (Politico). However, it seems that Hirsch wants to apply his theory of authorial intent to his pedagogy by means of arguing that since he does not intend to perpetuate the culture of power, then his pedagogy does not actually perpetuate the culture of power. Unfortunately, as we all reasonably know, intent and realistic ramifications are often not aligned so neatly. Perhaps Hirsch should apply his authorial theory to literature only, as we are still left wondering, “How can any dictionary of cultural literacy keep pace with such a rapidly changing world?” (Politico). The Core Knowledge site argues that their curricula for “the sequential building of knowledge” is not about freezing culture and teaching it as stagnant. Rather, they argue it “provides a clear outline of content to be learned grade by grade so that knowledge, language, and skills build cumulatively from year to year” (CoreKnowledge). By working to “prevent the repetitions and gaps that so often characterize current education,” i.e. “repeated units in multiple years on the rain forest, with little or no attention to the Bill of Rights, world geography, or exposure to other cultures”, Core Knowledge wants to give students as much information as possible, to maximize learning opportunity, not dictate the educational experience (CoreKnowledge).
The truly “scholarly” conversation on this topic is sparse, as Malcolm B. Campbell’s article in the Teacher Education Quarterly, “E.D. Hirsch, Jr.'s "Cultural Literacy": Quality of Life or Mere Level of Brow?” seems to be the sole soul in actually raising and addressing this issue. The controversy in question: is Hirsch really equalizing the educational playing field by raising the standard of quality, or is Hirsch’s overarching methodology propagating a singular dogmatic American perspective, which is authored by the post-colonial western thought? Campbell begins, “Forty years ago, T. S. Eliot, in his Notes Towards the Definition of Culture, cautioned his reader to recall how all-encompassing the term “culture” is” (Campbell 81). Acutely, Campbell is raising a very important issue that is central to the controversy of Common Core Curriculum standards. He argues that Eliot’s all-inclusive “view of culture accents what E. D. Hirsch, Jr., in his recent best-selling Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know, prescribes as “national literate culture”” (Campbell 81).
For Campbell, Hirsch’s “central thesis is that the acculturative responsibility of American formal education is an essential teaching obligation and each American child should become culturally literate, to borrow in slightly reworked form of Eliot’s phrase, in “the characteristic activities and interests” of the American people” (Campbell 81). Furthermore, he reads that Hirsch’s pedagogical task proceeds “on the assumption that the United States needs to encourage the formation of a linguistically homogenous population by self-consciously providing for everyone a general education in a common culture” (Campbell 82). Campbell identifies Hirsch as “part of a growing neoconservative grass-roots movement in the United States” (Campbell 83). Campbell perhaps erroneously attributes Hirsch to be a neoconservative, but his greater critique is his skepticism of Hirsch’s denial of dominion; Campbell says of Hirsch, “Lists and dictionaries containing the vocabulary of cultural literacy do not, in his view, represent means of legitimating and reproducing existing patterns of cultural control, dominance and power over those who are controlled, dominated, and powerless” (Campbell 84). He continues, “in spite of Hirsch’s protestations to the contrary, the nagging realization that his “cultural literacy” is a mirror image of the attitudes, beliefs, knowledge, and values of dominant American cultural groups, particularly those in possession of high social economic status in American society” (Campbell 85).
Further questioning Hirschian pedagogy, Campbell asks, “Can state-sponsored systems of public education provide for both diversity and unity in cultural literacy without applauding the latter at he expense of the former?” (Campbell 88). He then answers his own question ardently stating, “Hirsch suggests that public education provision which recognizes cultural diversity is difficult at best” (Campbell 88). He even adds that Hirsch’s book ultimately “may be a book about authority, or how to get others to agree with what you want them to agree with,” an idea supported by Donald J. Gray’s review as well, arguing, “Authority is certainly the motive of the book’s most talked-about feature” (Campbell 89). Critics such as these are indeed recognizing somewhat of an authorial connection between Hirsch’s hermeneutics and pedagogy. Campbell blatantly claims that Hirsch is authoring the minds of American students and their historical narrative according to a WASP-oriented standard. He claims that Hirsch’s argument “that America’s schools should present as “facts” to children cultural concepts which are heavily oriented to one of the many cultural traditions, namely, an Anglo-American tradition, present in the United States seriously distorts the “reality” of American life” (Campbell 89).
Although Campbell denotes Hirschian pedagogy negatively, he does contribute positively to the discussion. He addresses “the longstanding conflict in American society between two theories of how children in the United States are optimally educated” (Campbell 89):
“One view, the so-called traditionalist perspective, argues that the chief purpose of schooling is to inculcate adult values in youth; the second, or so-called progressivist perspective, states that the preeminent purpose of schooling is to encourage youth to develop intellectual strategies for living in a democratic world” (Campbell 89).
Campbell is correct in noticing that the issue with Hirsch lies in one’s respective answer to the question, “What is the purpose of education?”. Although American citizens may continually be split over this issue, Hirsch’s pedagogy has become the bulwark for this debate. Campbell contributes to this attack by once again invoking T.S. Eliot; he quotes, “It is tempting and sometimes justifiable to laugh at that phrase “quality of life.” But I am more and more disposed to keep it, to ask of all the arts and styles of a society what qualities of life rather than levels of brow they express” (Campbell 90). Campbell then builds off of this notion and concludes his review with the inconclusive question: “Is E.D. Hirsch’s “cultural literacy” conceptually inclusive of quality of life issues in contemporary American society, or is his “cultural literacy” an exclusive concept designed to merely hone the “levels of brow” in that society?” (Campbell 90). To this question, Hirsch states,
“Our society cannot afford a two-tiered system in which the affluent have access to a superior education, while everyone else is subjected to a dull and incoherent classroom experience. Academic excellence, educational equity and fairness demand a strong foundation of knowledge for all learners” (CommonCore)
The Common Core standards, in Hirsch’s statement of intent, are about raising the bar for education in those districts that have previously struggled, not about brainwashing all American students to believe in a singular view on quality of life.
Dr. Jason R. Edwards, a research fellow with the Center and an associate professor of education and history at Grove City College, as well as a Center fellow in educational policy and in the study of popular culture, provides some insight on this issue in a recent interview with The Center for Vision and Values, which is within his resident college, about his new paper, “E.D. Hirsch Jr.: The Twentieth Century’s Liberal Conservative Educator”. He clarifies that Hirsch’s political goals are indeed left, but his education methods are very conservative. Additionally, “His call for a controlling federal presence in education further muddies the contemporary political water”. In his paper, Edwards makes the argument that
“Christians would probably be attracted to the fact that Hirsch fully embraces the necessity of all American students to be very familiar with Western Civilization and consequently the Bible. Hirsch certainly thinks it is a major mistake for public schools to avoid discussing and indeed teaching Bible stories, proverbs, and ideas.”
However, in the interview, Edwards makes an addendum that Hirsch does not actually endorse Christianity,
“He merely recognizes the obvious: that the West is a product of Christendom. A person cannot understand Western politics, music, art, literature, etc. or even communicate effectively through allusions, metaphors, and stories, without a firm recollection of the Bible. Though not mutually exclusive, one can endorse religious education primarily because one believes Christianity to be true or one can endorse teaching Christianity because it is practically necessary. Ever the pragmatist, Hirsch is in the latter camp.”
Edwards, like Haycock, seems to have come around to a respectful understanding of Hirsch’s work, as both recognize the true nature of Hirsch’s intent, yet neither can deny the possible negative factors that may be at play in the actual implementation of this pedagogy in future years.
Perhaps a better way to honestly illuminate Hirsch is through a comparison of his predecessor, Matthew Arnold, as both serve as theorists affecting and shaping the discipline of study. Arnold is considered “virtually the founding father of modern criticism in the English-speaking world” (NA 691). Additionally, he “provided literary criticism with an important social function and paved the way for its “institutionalization” in the academy. He regarded the writing and reading of literature as urgent activities in the world” (NA 691). Since both men figure prominently in literary theory and education, one can feasibly compare modern Hirschian pedagogy to the more dogmatic and elitist Arnoldian ideals to reveal a distinct difference between their respective natures. Additionally, this feat is facilitated by the fact that both men boldly assert their values. Arnold believed that serious literary criticism was necessary because it “was responsible for generating and maintaining the context of ideas and high standards responsible for generating and maintaining the context of ideas and high standards that the production of literature required” (NA 691). For Arnold, this requires “an engagement with history, education, politics, religion, philosophy and other subjects and concerns; literature is vitally connected to society and culture” (NA 691). It is this philosophy that drew Arnold into education: “He resolutely campaigned for Christianity, patriotism, self-reliance, loyalty, duty, and public service, and he won great renown for his commitment to them in education” (NA 691). In 1851, he was appointed “as an inspector of schools, and this demanding work involved much tedious discussion with teachers and administration… which led to three books on European (particularly French) systems of education” (NA 692). He believed that the school is the crucial site for “civilizing the next generation of the lower classes, who, as things are going, will have most of the political power of the country in their hands” (NA 692). Hirsch indeed shares many similar values to Arnold.
Like Hirsch, Arnold was “dedicated to the task of social and cultural progress” (NA 692). Additionally, both men recognize the vital role that the educational system plays in the larger society by influencing and shaping the knowledge instilled in youth. However, whereas Hirsch’s “work is not driven by ideology, but logically by science, history, and research… For the sake of academic excellence, greater equity, and higher literacy” (CoreKnowledge), Arnold’s theory is much more personally ideological and elitist. When the House of Commons became the ruling power of England and democracy took hold over the “favored aristocracy”, giving personal liberty to the lower and middle classes, or “ignorant”, the elite became worried (Brunell 2). He, like many of his fellow elites, “had very little respect for the culture of the middle classes” and “could see no better way than the education of his fellowmen to the appreciation of culture, as he understood the term” (Brunell 3). His ideas about this proper culture to be attained are outlines in his piece, “Culture and Anarchy”. For Arnold, education means the acquisition of culture, a statement that Hirsch could agree with to a degree. However, what constitutes culture would surely be an issue of dispute between the two. Arnold continues that “culture is the study and pursuit of perfection”, whereas Hirsch delineates a more fact-based knowledge of culture (Brunell 8).
For Arnold, the pursuit of perfection is inherently interspersed with his religious beliefs in God’s supreme dominion. Additionally, Arnold “had a strong dislike for works on pedagogy, inasmuch as he thought the set rules contained in them would result in a sort of formalism which would kill all eager desire for culture” (Brunell 12). Ironically, Arnold actually advocates for the imaginative and informal educational environment that Hirsch is calling Americans to move away from. He says that the role of teachers is “to give to those children the power of reading, of writing, and of casting accounts… He has to do as much towards opening their mind, and opening their soul and imagination, as is possible to be done” (Brunell 13). Although Arnold does not wholly discount fact-based “knowledge of the world” such as the “laws of nature, some knowledge of geography and of history, above all of the history of their own country”, it is clear to see that the two theorists are emphasizing opposing approaches. Arnold actually seems to be the dogmatic advocate religiously infused literary study that so many have charged Hirsch to be. Arnold believed “taste and culture” to be the most important attainments of education, and he had very specific and personal ideas as to what those standards should be, whereas Hirsch is offering an inclusive knowledge as a tool for equality. It seems that the only point on which both men truly emphatically agree on for curriculum is the role of literature, but even then, Arnold is advocating for a much more constrictive and British canonized list than that of Hirsch. Unlike Hirsch, there is much greater presence of WASP-lensed narration as Arnold attempts to impose his privileged vision of “the best that has been thought and said” on all of Britain.
Arnold posits religion as “the greatest and most important of the efforts by which the human race has manifested its impulse to perfect itself” because it is “that voice of the deepest human experience” (NA 716). Furthermore, he regards religion as not only on par with the aims of culture, “the aim of setting ourselves to ascertain what perfection is and to make it prevail; but also, in determining generally in what human perfection consists, religion comes to a conclusion identical with that which culture” (NA 716). In Arnold’s view, culture seeks “the determination of this question through all the voices of human experience which have been heard upon it, of art, science, poetry, philosophy, history as well of religion, in order to give greater fullness and certainty to its solution, --likewise reaches” (NA 716). If one compares the Core Knowledge site to Arnold’s proclamation, it becomes clear that Hirsch’s initiative is much less centered around religion and certainly is not aiming to produce perfection. Rather, the Common Core Standards Initiative as it has been adopted by nearly every state in the U.S., is grounded on the idea that “building knowledge systematically in English language arts is like giving children various pieces of a puzzle in each grade that, over time, will form one big picture.” (CoreKnowledge). This pedagogy is aimed at providing the same tool belt for all students in America, such that they will be equally well-equipped, not on streamlining each student’s ideas to a perfect univocal narrative. Additionally, whereas an Arnoldian pedagogy sprouts from personal values, Common Core is backed by research. As the University of Virginia cognitive scientist Daniel T. Willingham states, “The richer the knowledge base, the more smoothly and effectively cognitive processes — the very ones that teachers target — operate… So, the more knowledge students accumulate the smarter they become" (CoreKnowledge). Thus, Hirsch’s proposed standards offer an education grounded in shared knowledge of history, science, art and music as the necessary tool belt for this goal.
Core Knowledge argues that whereas a typical state or district curriculum says, “Students will demonstrate knowledge of people, events, ideas, and movements that contributed to the development of the United States,” it leaves ambiguous the answer to the essential questions: “But which people and events? Which ideas and movements?” (CoreKnowledge). Unlike those typical agendas, the Common Core Sequence is uniquely distinguished by its specificity: “By clearly specifying important knowledge in language arts, history, geography, math, science, and the fine arts, the Sequence presents a practical answer to the question, “What do our children need to know?”” while still leaving teachers and instructors with their desired space to freely “devote their energies and efforts to creatively planning how to teach the content to the children in their classrooms” (CoreKnowledge).The goal of this standardization is to give the American public access to and the ability to understand knowledge of historical facts and events.
In fact, Hirsch has made his curricula public on the foundation’s website, and by examining the most recent example template of a Core Knowledge Sequence for sixth through eighth grade, it is clear that Hirsch’s opponents are the uneducated ones. The suggested study plan includes classical English fields of study, such as Romanticism and the Enlightenment in literature and science, but it also encourages “Latin American Independence Movements” in History and Geography, as well as “Immigration, Industrialization, and Urbanization” and “Reform (African American Reformers)” (CoreKnowledge). Additionally, the curriculum includes authors of diverse races and background, “Non-Western Music” and geography of Mexico. The plan actually does not suggest any religious study, not even Biblical. Furthermore, his list of “Core Classics” is not actually “all white dead guys”, featuring “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass”.
Beginning with preschool, there are extremely detailed outlines for scheduling lessons effectively and maximally, with a “level of specificity allows teachers to more accurately identify the abilities of individual children and develop experiences and activities that will meet each child's needs” by providing the tools for assessment as well as instruction (CoreKnowledge). The preschool sequence outlines that children should learn Movement and Coordination, Autonomy and Social Skills, Work Habits, Oral Language, Nursery Rhymes, Poems, Fingerplays and Songs, Storybook Reading and Storytelling, Emerging Literacy Skills in Reading and Writing, Mathematical Reasoning and Number Sense, Orientation in Time and Space, Scientific Reasoning, and the Physical World Music and Visual Arts. By eighth grade, amongst a multitude of other “classic” educational bullet points, the student should learn: Foreign Phrases Commonly Used in English, The Middle East and Oil Politics, Geography of Canada and Mexico, Art History: Periods and Schools (Painting Since World War II; Photography; 20th-Century Sculpture), Non-Western Music, Classical Music: Nationalists and Moderns, Vocal Music (Opera; American Musical Theater), Algebra and Geometry, Physics, Chemistry of Food and Respiration, and Science Biographies. In fourth grade, students study Art of the Middle Ages in Europe, Islamic Art and Architecture, Art of Africa, Art of China, and Art of a New Nation: The United States. Japanese Art is saved for fifth grade, while American Indian Art has already bee taught in third. Although the bulk of history is American, after third grade, students spend half of their studies on world cultures as well; there are also segments for Early Asian Civilizations, Modern Japanese Civilization, Modern Civilization and Culture in Mexico, Native American Peoples in the Past and Present, The Spread of Islam and the “Holy Wars”, Early and Medieval African Kingdoms, China: Dynasties and Conquerors, and the Russian Revolution. The scope of Common Core, as outlined above, can not accurately be labeled WASP-oriented.
After actually looking into the plan, rather than assuming its contents, one can clearly see the balance between the arts and sciences, as well as multicultural knowledge. In his 2006 book, The Knowledge Deficit, Hirsch writes,
“We need to see the reading comprehension problem for what it primarily is–a knowledge problem. Our schools must supply students with broad, content-rich knowledge of history, geography, science, literature, and the arts in order for them to become stronger readers. There is no way around the need for children to gain broad general knowledge in order to gain broad general proficiency in reading” (CoreKnowledge).
With the Common Core Standards, Hirschian pedagogy seeks to induct students into a thriving citizenship by providing all students with an equal opportunity to attain and gain knowledge. The standards are not actually more oriented towards any one ideology, especially not religiously so. So why has there been so much controversy and media attention to an issue that seemingly does not exist in its actual practice? It seems that the subject has attracted so much attention because of the inherent recognition of the important role primary and secondary education does play in shaping young minds and the American future. America agrees with Hirsch that education at these levels need to be taken seriously, but that recognition brings with it the deep-seated fear of controlled information and its accompanying effects of perpetuating certain ideologies and limited belief systems. However, if Americans set their associational fears of “Obamacore” aside, a true investigation of Common Core standards, and Hirsch as its propagator, will likely result in the revelation that Hirsch is not out to perpetuate any ideology, especially not his personal values. Rather, the unbiased eye will read a hearty synthesis of multi-disciplinary study spanning cultural, national and religious divisions aimed at providing students with a future of continual learning and growing, as they become inducted into an American citizenship valuing individual equality and collective prosperity.
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