Monday, January 22, 2007

Review of New E.D. Hirsch Book

Interesting Common Review article about the new book by E.D. Hirsch found on A&LD. (Make sure to get it fast; the web addy suggests that they might take the article down w/o notice. I'm saving a copy to a Word doc for future reference.) Prof. Hirsch is best known for the various versions of his late-1980s work Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know.

Excerpt: An educational experiment in 1989 pitted a group of students with high reading scores, selected especially for their lack of interest in baseball, against a group of low-scoring students who happened to be avid baseball fans. The two groups were asked to demonstrate their reading comprehension of a passage on baseball. Can you guess which team won?... ...“We need to see the reading comprehension problem,” Hirsch writes, “for what it primarily is—a knowledge problem.” Schooling, according to Hirsch, must supply our students with the broad knowledge—much less of baseball than of history, literature, science, and other traditional subjects—that is requisite for reading. This broad knowledge of words and of the world is also what standardized reading tests in fact test for, Hirsch says. These typically consist of passages on a variety of topics, undisclosed until testing time, for which only a good general education can prepare the student. In or out of the exam room or the research lab, there is no such thing as reading comprehension without prior knowledge of a text’s vocabulary (90 percent of it is the estimated minimum) and its references, and no such thing as effective education without imparting to students a wide range of specific knowledge.

Long story short: I concur (even if the reviewer does not entirely). Here's the Bartleby of Prof. Hirsch's New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy (2003), and make sure to check out his organization's website, Core Knowledge.

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