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E.D. Hirsch

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Mary O'Keefe

on 28 March 2014

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Transcript of E.D. Hirsch

E.D. Hirsch, Jr.
He called this shared content knowledge
All About Hirsch
Born March 22, 1928
Undergraduate degree from Cornell University; PhD from Yale University
Professor of English Literature at Yale and of Education and Humanities at University of Virginia
His views on "cultural literacy" were developed from his experience teaching in Virginia, comparing students at the University of Virginia to those at a Richmond community college. See: http://www.coreknowledge.org/ed-hirsch-jr
Author of bestsellers
Cultural Literacy
The Dictionary of Cultural Literacy
He is considered one of the most influential educational reformers of our time.
He advocates for a curriculum rich with common content knowledge that would allow all students to actively and equally participate in society and democratic life.
Cultural Literacy
Hirsch defined cultural literacy as
"the network of information that all competent readers possess. It is the background information, stored in their minds, that enables them to pick up a newspaper and read it with an adequate level of comprehension, getting the point, grasping implications, relating what they read to unstated context which alone gives meaning to what they read."
(Hirsch, 1988, pg. 2)

He believed that in order to understand written or oral communication,
"we must understand more than the surface meanings of words; we have to understand the context as well."
(1988, pg. 3)
Why do we need to be culturally literate?
Hirsch believes that students need more than phonics to be able to read.

Students, in addition, need to be exposed to a wide variety of
in order to improve reading comprehension.

Knowledge is the foundation for literacy and increasing abilities in literacy. But, in order for students to have equal opportunities to improve literacy, their foundational knowledge must be shared.

Since 1987, SAT verbal scores have declined, evidence that children are becoming less culturally literate: https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=171

Core Knowledge
Hirsch founded the Core Knowledge Foundation in 1986 to promote a common, content-based curriculum for schools.
Today, there are approximately 1,230 Core Knowledge schools throughout the United States.
The Core Knowledge curriculum allows teachers to differentiate instruction while teaching students a core body of shared knowledge.
Read more about it here! http://www.coreknowledge.org/about-the-curriculum
Controversy: Will the content fit the needs of all children (from different backgrounds, communities, and states)?
At what ages should teachers introduce the various topics?
What knowledge is important for everyone to know?

Who should decide what is important for everyone to know?

What implications do the answers of these two questions have?


Hirsch, E.D., Jr. (1988). Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know. New York: Vintage Books. Chapters 1 and 5. https://fordham.blackboard.com/bbcswebdav/pid-1585858-dt-content-rid-597645_1/courses/UEGE5102V01201420/hirsch1.pdf

Hirsch, E.D., Jr. The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy. Houghton Mifflin. 2002. Accessed http://search.credoreference.com.avoserv.library.fordham.edu/content/title/hmndcl?tab=overview.

Hirsch, E. D. (2014). Sustaining the American experiment. In C. Finn, Jr. & M. J. Petrilli, Jr. (Eds.), Knowledge at the Core (pp. 7-14). Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

Hirsch, E. D., Jr. (2013, August 08). Why I'm for the Common Core.[Web log message]. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/e-d-hirsch-jr/why-im-for-the-common-cor_b_3809618.html

The Fordham Institute. January 27, 2014. A Tribute to the Work of E.D. Hirsch, Jr. Accessed http://www.edexcellence.net/commentary/videos/a-tribute-to-the-work-of-e-d-hirsch-jr

Hirsch and Cultural Literacy on McNeil/Lehrer News Hour. Accessed https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ROIjiY1uZU

Core Knowledge. E.D. Hirsch, Jr. Accessed http://www.coreknowledge.org/ed-hirsch-jr.

Baker, Al. Culture Warrior, Gaining Ground: E.D. Hirsch Sees His Education Theories Taking Hold. New York Times. September 27, 2013. Accessed http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/28/books/e-d-hirsch-sees-his-education-theories-taking-hold.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1&.

Krashen, Stephen. 81 Generalizations about Free Voluntary Reading. IATEFL. 2009. Accessed: http://successfulenglish.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/01/81-Generalizations-about-FVR-2009.pdf

Browse through Hirsch's Dictionary of Cultural Literacy


As a college-educated student, how many of these pieces of information do you not know? More than you thought?
Focus on 6:16-7:28 to gain a broad understanding of the debate at his book's time of publishing
For a deeper understanding of Hirsch and his work, take the time to watch the full video!
Why Cultural Literacy?
For reading comprehension!

Cultural Literacy Today: This New York Times article published in 2013 shows how Hirsch's views are being received by today's educators.

The Implication of a Culture of Power
“The point of the argument wasn’t to perpetuate that culture of power, it was to open the door to kids who, in the United States, because of our schooling system, who don’t have access to that knowledge, to those those keys to power... tools to power… The question is, when, if ever, will it catch hold?” (A Tribute to E.D. Hirsch)
By identifying what content knowledge was important and relevant in our society, Hirsch was not attempting to further widen the achievement gap, but rather give disadvantaged students the knowledge that many other students already possessed, in order to provide an equal opportunity to improve their learning.
Hirsch and his followers argue that progressive methods (such as those advocated by Dewey) only serve those students who already possess this background knowledge. As such, they ensure the achievement gap (which is actually a knowledge and language gap) remains wide. Educators can make up for these gaps by providing students with a shared cultural literacy.

Is progressive education sustaining the achievement gap?

Do you believe the Core Knowledge movement can help work towards social justice in American education today?
Which comes first:
learning knowledge to improve your reading skills,
learning reading skills to acquire that knowledge
Core Knowledge and Common Core
As the Common Core requires a content base for student success, Hirsch supports it emphatically. Read this article on why he supports the Common Core State Standards.


How could student possession of a shared body of knowledge make teaching more effective?
Hirsch and American Citizenship
Core Knowledge is essential to the continuation of our democracy, Hirsch argues. This is because the United States is "an artificially created nation based on ideas, and therefore sustainable only by schools that promulgated those ideas. People were to be bound together not by common traditions from a mythic past, but by common ideals about freedom, equality, democracy, and law, which could only be instilled by education." (Hirsch, 2014, p. 9)

Compare this idea about the relationship between education and democracy to the ideas of other authors we have read, such as Baldwin, Plato, and Dewey. Who's theory do you think best solves the problem?
Concluding Thoughts
E.D. Hirsch is one of the most influential people in education today.
He challenges progressive educators on the grounds that children who do not have sufficient background knowledge, mostly those from disadvantaged situations, will not be able to read increasingly difficult texts.
He has controversially defined the body of knowledge that he believes should make up a universal culture for Americans.
What do you make of Hirsch? Will Core Knowledge be effective in your New York City school?
Is knowledge itself important?
How, if at all, will you change your teaching practice as a result of having read Hirsch?
Do you believe in having common standards, such as Common Core and Core Knowledge, in the first place?
Full transcript