Hirsch, author of The Knowledge Deficit, draws on recent findings in neuroscience and data from France to provide new evidence for the argument that a carefully planned, knowledge-based elementary curriculum is essential to providing the foundations for children's life success and ensuring equal opportunity for students of all backgrounds. In the absence of a clear, common curriculum, Hirsch contends that tests are reduced to measuring skills rather than content, and that students from disadvantaged backgrounds cannot develop the knowledge base to support high achievement. Hirsch advocates for updated policies based on a set of ideas that are consistent with current cognitive science, developmental psychology, and social science.
The book focuses on six persistent problems of recent US education: the over-testing of students; the scapegoating of teachers; the fadeout of preschool gains; the narrowing of the curriculum; the continued achievement gap between demographic groups; and the reliance on standards that are not linked to a rigorous curriculum. Hirsch examines evidence from the United States and other nations that a coherent, knowledge-based approach to schooling has improved both achievement and equity wherever it has been instituted, supporting the argument that the most significant education reform and force for equality of opportunity and greater social cohesion is the reform of fundamental educational ideas.
Why Knowledge Matters introduces a new generation of American educators to Hirsch's astute and passionate analysis.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2016-07-04
- Reviewer: Staff
Hirsch (Cultural Literacy), founder of the Core Knowledge Foundation, assesses recent reports on education in the U.S. and abroad to reaffirm his career-long crusade for a coherent, cumulative, and content-specific K-12 curriculum. The problems besetting the American system can all, he insists, be attributed to a fragmented, diluted curriculum caused by faulty ideas about individualism, child-centeredness, and theories of natural development not supported by cognitive science. The news from the educational experiments in France, Sweden, and elsewhere in Europe, Hirsch reports, is that so-called “progressive education” that valorizes skills of critical thinking, creativity, and communication without trying to instill a broad base of knowledge produces declining test scores, inequality, and social injustice. What is called for, he says, looking at examples of high-performing Asian schools and the example of a N.Y.C. school that adopted a Core Knowledge curriculum, is a return to community-centered ideals and traditions of shared knowledge that equip citizens for full participation in the public sphere. The structure of the book leads to much rehearsal of its main points with selective or highly summarized glances at the research, and Hirsch sidesteps the question of who gets to decide what is communal knowledge, insisting that knowledge-based learning is not a Gradgrindian emphasis on rote facts but is fun and playful and involves empathetic teaching. Though shy on practical implementation strategies, Hirsch’s call for “a better-educated citizenry” should be heeded by educators and administrators alike. (Sept.)