Equal Knowledge

Glazer, Nathan. "Equal Knowledge." Review of The Making of Americans by E.D. Hirsch Jr., Education Next, Summer 2010.

Excerpt: E. D. Hirsch has contributed what is to me the most persuasive idea of the past half century on how to improve the performance of American education. It is a simple idea, but has large implications. These were first spelled out in Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know, in 1988, and explicated further in subsequent works. In his new book, The Making of Americans: Democracy and Our Schools, Hirsch presents this simple and powerful idea again. This time it is supplemented with new research, along with a backward look at the ideals guiding the development of American public education and how we have moved away from them in recent decades. Hirsch, a professor of English literature at the University of Virginia—his first books were on Wordsworth and Blake—became interested in the problem of teaching reading to young pupils, who would in time become his students at the college level. Rather than involving himself in the technical question of how to teach reading, he argued that students couldn’t become competent readers because they knew less and less of the simple and necessary information that surrounded what they were reading, the context that any writer has to assume is shared by his readers. Hirsch’s term for the missing knowledge was “cultural literacy.”

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