E.D. Hirsch, Jr. Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know, published in 1987, instant best-seller Includes 63-page list of 5,000 “Essential names, phrases, dates, and concepts” Hirsch now publishes extensive set of books, What Every First Grader Needs to Know, etc.; very popular with home-schoolers Has become key figure in rationales for “standard- based education”
Basic Arguments Basic goal of his program is to break the cycle of poverty and illiteracy Participation and success in larger society requires knowledge of shared culture, i.e., “cultural literacy” “Cultural literacy constitutes the only sure avenue for disadvantaged children.” (p. xiii) “Only highly literate societies can prosper economically.” (p. 1) Cites numerous indeces of a decline in cultural literacy: falling test scores, television, complaints from business leaders.
Basic Arguments (cont‟d.) “More and more of our young people don‟t know things we used to assume they knew.” (p. 5) Gives example of students who do not know what the Alamo was, when the Civil War took place, or what the Brown v. Board of Ed ruling was about. (pp. 6-8) Example of time when his father wrote business letters that alluded to Shakespeare, but could not do so in today‟s world: “The fact that middle-level executives no longer share literate background knowledge is a chief cause of their inability to communicate effectively.” (pp. 9-10)
Basic Arguments (cont‟d.) Quotes sociologist Orlando Patterson, who wrote that “To assume that this wider culture is static is an error. It‟s not a WASP culture; it doesn‟t belong to any group.” (p. 11) “The civic importance of cultural literacy lies in the fact that true enfranchisement depends upon knowledge, knowledge upon literacy, and literacy upon cultural literacy.” (p. 12) Multicultural education: “However laudable it is, it should not be the primary focus of national education. It should not be allowed to supplant or interfere with our schools‟ responsibility to ensure our children‟s mastery of American literate culture.” (p. 18)
Basic Arguments (cont‟d.) American schools have been dominated by the content-neutral ideas of Rousseau and Dewey….” (p. 19) Argues that television is not to blame. “The schools themselves must be held partly responsible for excessive television watching, because they have not firmly insisted that students complete significant amounts of homework, an obvious way to increase time spent on reading and writing.” (p. 20)
Basic Arguments (cont‟d.) “Providing our children with traditional information by no means indoctrinates them in a conservative point of view.” (p. 24) “The flux in mainstream culture is obvious to all. But stability, not change, is the chief characteristic of cultural literacy.” (p. 29) “Our current distaste for memorization is more pious than realistic.” (p. 30) “The more computers we have, the more we need shared fairy tales, Greek myths, historical images, and so on.” (p. 31)
Basic Arguments (cont‟d.) “We will be able to achieve a just and prosperous society only when our schools ensure that everyone commands enough shared background knowledge to be able to communicate effectively with everyone else.” (p. 32)
Deborah Meier Founded New York City‟s Central Park East School in 1974 – small, progressive “alternative” high school based on Deweyan ideals. Founded other schools that became part of the Coalition of Essential Schools, which was founded on these basic principles:
Meier (cont‟d.) Learning to use ones mind well Less is More, depth over coverage Goals apply to all students Personalization Student-as-worker, teacher-as-coach Demonstration of mastery A tone of decency and trust Commitment to the entire school Resources dedicated to teaching and learning Democracy and equity (this principle was added later, in the mid-nineties)
Basic Arguments Explains rapid increase in recent years in numbers of students expelled from public schools in Chicago and elimination of alternative programs: “The stories of Chicago and Lynnfield capture a dark side of the „standards-based reform‟ movement in American education: the politically popular movement to devise national or state-mandated standards for what all kids should know, and high-stakes tests and sanctions to make sure they all know it. The stories show how the appeal to standards can mask and make way for other agendas: punishing kids, privatizing public education, giving up on equity.” (p. 4)
Basic Arguments (cont‟d.) Standardization “will not help to develop young minds, contribute to a robust democratic life, or aid the most vulnerable of our fellow citizens…. It undermines the capacity of schools to instruct by example in the qualities of mind that schools in a democracy should be fostering in kids – responsibility for one‟s own ideas, tolerance for the ideas of others, and a capacity to negotiate differences.” (pp. 4-5)
Basic Arguments (cont‟d.) Identifies basic features of standards-based education: an official framework; classroom curricula, which includes commercial textbooks and scripted programs, that convey agreed-upon knowledge; a set of assessment tools (i.e., tests) designed to measure whether children have achieved the goals set out in the framework; a scheme of rewards and punishments aimed at districts, schools, and mainly individual students (pp. 5-6)
Basic Arguments (cont‟d.) Standards-Based Alternative View Goals: Should and can Goals: In a democracy be a single definition of there are multiple, what constitutes an legitimate definitions educated high school of “well educated”. graduate; all schools Different viewpoints should follow the same represent a healthy definition tension that is an essential part of democracy.
Standards-Based Alternative View Authority: Definition Authority: Experts of a “good education” should be subservient should be left to to citizens. Students experts, including need to see that the educators, political adults who teach them officials, leaders from have been empowered industry and the major to make decisions for academic disciplines. them.
Basic Arguments (cont‟d.) Standards-Based Alternative View Assessment: If we have Assessment: Standardized tests are too simple and all agreed on a simple-minded for high- standard, it will be easy stakes assessment. to devise a tool to Decisions regarding kids should always be based on measure how well the “multiple sources of standard is being met. evidence that seem This allows for clear appropriate and credible to comparisons among those most concerned.” There is a clear need for students, schools, “second opinions.” districts, and states.
Standards-Based Alternative View Enforcement: Enforcement: Sanctions must be Sanctions should removed from the remain in the hands of local, self-interested people who know the parties (teachers, particulars of each parents, local school child and each boards) situation.
Basic Arguments (cont‟d.) Standards-Based Alternative View Equity: Clear Equity: A fairer standards, applied distribution of equally to all students, resources is the best is the best route to means of attaining educational equity. educational equity.
Basic Arguments (cont‟d.) Standards-Based Alternative View Effective Learning: Effective Learning:Improved Clear-cut expectations, learning is best achieved accompanied by by improving teaching automatic rewards and and learning relationships of both punishments will teachers and learners. produce the greatest Learning depends on the effort, which will lead engagement of learners on their own behalf; this to effective learning. is largely a function of their relationship with the school.
Basic Arguments (cont‟d.) Meier suggests an “alternative model,” based on the following: Increased local decision-making and decrease in school-related bureaucracy Schools should never be theaters based on the imposition of externally-imposed standards. Must be small schools, in which students and teachers can have closer, more meaningful relationships Parental involvement High standards – but determined by the local community, not an external authority, standards “that give schooling purpose and coherence.”
Basic Arguments (cont‟d.) Alternative model (continued): Standards and assessments constantly revised and re-examined Based on her experience, if you do all this students will eventually “buy in” to the system Kids have a strong need for the kind of community and relationships this sort of school can provide Wants to see “small self-governing schools of choice, operating with considerable flexibility and freedom.” (p. 24)
Basic Arguments (cont‟d.) The “dystopia of the ant colony, the smoothly functioning (and quietly humming) factory where everything goes according to plan” vs. “a messy, often rambunctious, community, with its multiple demands and complicated trade-offs.” (p. 29) “A vibrant and nurturing community, with clear and regular guideposts – its own set of understanding, its people with a commitment to one another that feels something rather like love and affection – can sustain such rapid change without losing its humanity.” (p. 30)
Basic Arguments (cont‟d.) Rejects economic argument; argues that political participation is much more important than economic achievement; cites low voter turnout as symptom of a real crisis in American culture and education. The standards-based movement will ultimately widen the gap between rich and poor, haves and have-nots. Her model may not create equity, but it will not make the situation worse.