Eric Donald Hirsch, Jr. American Educator & Academic Literary Critic March 1928~"To grasp the words on a page we have to know alot of information that isnt set down on the page" (Hirsch, 1988, p. 3)
Table of Contents:• How did Hirsch Start in Education Reform?• Literacy in Decline• Coleman Report 1966• Coleman Report 1981• The Great Hidden Problem in American Education• Lets Test Your Cultural Literacy!• Language or Culture• Why is Literacy so Important to Hirsch?•And who agrees with him? The Fragmentation of Education• Hirschs Proposed Solution• What Steps did Hirsh Take?• References
How Did Hirsch Start in Education Reform?1957 Hirsch receives his Ph.D in English from YaleIn the 1960s As an English professor at University of Virginia, he realizes that background knowledge is a vital factor in students ability to comprehend texts, beginning his focus on education reform1980s Hirsch establishes his theory of "cultural literacy," the idea that reading comprehension largely depends upon wide-ranging background knowledge1986 He founds the Core Knowledge Foundation, an organization that champions his belief in theimportance of teaching cultural literacy.
Literacy in DeclineIn 2009, a federal study showed that an estimated 32 million adult Americanssuffer from low literacy skills that would make it difficult to understand side effectslisted on a medicine bottle... ...which means about one in every seven adult Americans find difficulty in reading anything more challenging than a childrens picture book (Toppo, 2009)Literacy rates have beendeclining over previousdecades. What are some theories as to why illiteracy is such a problem in America?
Coleman Report, 1966In 1966, James S. Coleman and team found "that differences in academicachievement were more strongly correlated with students family backgroundsthan with differences in the schools they attended"(Hirsch, 1988, p. 114)
Coleman Report, 1981The new Coleman report "shows that schools have a larger effect than had beensupposed [showing] private schools produce better academic results for allstudents, even when family backgrounds are taken into account" (Hirsch, 1988, p. 115-16) Hirsch (1988) infers that private schools produce higher academic achievement because "students spend more time in content courses and are exposed to more of the information that belongs to literate culture" (Hirsch, p. 116) So what is really behind the literacy decline in America?
"The Great Hidden Problem in American Education" (Hirsch, 1988, p.1) We lack what Hirsch (1988) refers to as cultural literacy,"the network of information that all competent readers possess. It is the background information, stored in their minds, that enables them to [read and give] meaning to what they read" (Hirsch, p. 2) We are lacking in shared knowledge, "the information that writers of Americanbooks and newspapers have traditionally taken for granted among their readers from all generations" (Hirsch, 1988, p.7) There is a strong, direct correlation between literacy and shared, contextual knowledge. Hirsch (1988) argues that "shared information is a necessary background to true literacy" and our education system must provide more "general knowledge that enables us to deal with new ideas, events, and challenges," rather than "treat reading and writing as empty skills, independent of specific knowledge" (Hirsch, p. 7-8) Lets test your "cultural literacy"!
Lets Test Your "Cultural Literacy"! What helps you more: Language skills or contextual knowledge?Scintillate, scintillate, meteorite minific = Twinkle, Twinkle, little starMembers of an avian species of identical plumage congregate = Birds of a feather flock togetherMale cadavers are incapable of yielding any testimony = Dead men tell no talesFreedom from incrustations of grime is contiguous to rectitude = Cleanliness is next to godlinessNeophytes serendipity = Beginners luck (Selby, 2012)
What Helps You More: Language or Cultural Knowledge? Hirsch would argue your ability to correctly translate and understand those idioms strongly depend on your ability to understand their true meanings:"Even if culturally literate readers bothered to look up individualwords, they would have little idea of the reality being referred to.The explicit words are just surface pointers to textual meaningin reading and writing. The comprehending reader must bring tothe text appropriate background information that includesknowledge [about] the shared attitudes and conventions" (Hirsch, p.13-14) So even with the knowledge that "male cadavers" refers to "dead men," a reader lacking the shared knowledge of the idiom may not understand the true meaning of the statement.
Why is Literacy Important to Hirsch?Democracy: "The aim of universal literacy has never been a socially neutral mission in our country...no modern society can hope to become a just society without a high level of universal literacy"(Hirsch, 1988, p. 11-12) Lisa Delpit (1988) would agree: "Students must be taught the codesTo improveto participate fully in the mainstream of American life...within the needed our national character:"The acculturative context of meaningful endeavors"(Delpit, 343 responsibility of the schools isp.primary and fundamental [and] remains the essence of the education of our children [so they can become] competent to communicate with Americans throughout the land"(Hirsch, 1988, p. 17-25)IntelligenceM. Schlesinger (1997): "The bonds of national cohesion are Arthur and Knowledge: "The more we read the more sufficiently fragile already. Public education should aim to strengthen necessary knowledge we gain for further reading"(Hirsch, 1988, p. those bonds, not to weaken them" (18) "Should it not seek to make our 28) Dr. Seuss (1978): girls contributors to a common American culture? (90) young boys and "The more that you read, the more things you will know/ The more that you learn, the more places youll go!"(I can read with my eyes shut)
The Fragmentation of Education1893 - Report of the Committee of Ten on Secondary School Studies. o Scholars believed the American education system was fragmented (students in different areas were learning different topics) and proposed a "traditional curriculum" (Hirsch, p. 117).1918 - The Cardinal Principles of Secondary Education o To ensure that all students could graduate high school, which the Committee of Ten made impossible, scholars "recommended introducing a wide array of courses that would accord with childrens individual differences" (Hirsch, p. 120). The result was a knowledge gap among Americans that reduced literacy.
Hirschs Proposed Solution-How toHelp Close the "Knowledge Gap" (1988, p. 8)1. "We cannot assume that young people today know things that were known in the past by almost every literate person in the culture" (Hirsch, 1988, p. 8)2. "We cannot treat reading and writing as empty skills, independent of specific knowledge...the level of literacy exhibited in each task depends on the relevant background information that the person possesses" (Hirsch, 1988, p. 8)3. Avoid the shopping mall high school, the theory that any suitable content will instill reading, writing, and thinking skills; which inevitably leads to a lack of shared knowledge across and within schools (Hirsch, 1988, p. 21)
What Steps did Hirsch Take?Hirsch established the Core Knowledge Foundation to create an outline, entitled The Core Knowledge Sequence, of the specific foundational knowledge that every student in preschool through eighth grade should learn. It suggests that kindergartners learn the following phrases: "A dog is a mans best friend." "Better safe than sorry." "The early bird gets the worm." "Practice makes perfect." Hirsch believes that this level of specificity is required to ensure that all students have an equally strong educational foundation.The complete Core Knowledge Sequence is aligned with the common core and
References:Delpit, Lisa, D. (1988). The silenced dialogue: Power and pedagogy in educating other peoples children. Harvard Educational Review, 58 (3). pp. 330-345.Curt Hennigan. (2011, May 30). Martin Luther King, Jr., speech (I have a dream). Retrieved June 20, 2012, from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V57lotnKGF8Hirsch, E.D., Jr. (1988). Cultural Literacy: What every American needs to know. New York: Vintage Books. ---(2012). Our philosophy. Retrieved from http://www.coreknowledge.org/our- philosophy ---(2009). The making of Americans. C-Span. Lecture conducted at Manhattan Institute, New York, NY. Retrieved from http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/289952-1Schlesinger, Arthur, M., Jr. (1992). The disuniting of America: Reflections on a multicultural society. New York: W.W. Norton.Selby, E. (2012, May). Celebrated oracular utterances. Psychology of adolescent development and learning. Lecture conducted at Fordham University, New York, NY.Seuss, Dr. (1978). I can read with my eyes shut. New York: Random House.Toppo, Greg. (2009, January 8). Literacy study: 1 in 7 adults are unable to read this story. USA Today. Retrieved from http://www.usatoday.com
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