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Why Knowledge Matters: Rescuing Our Children from Failed Educational Theories

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In Why Knowledge Matters, influential scholar E. D. Hirsch, Jr., addresses critical issues in contemporary education reform and shows how cherished truisms about education and child development have led to unintended and negative consequences.   Hirsch, author of The Knowledge Deficit, draws on recent findings in neuroscience and data from France to provide new evidence fo In Why Knowledge Matters, influential scholar E. D. Hirsch, Jr., addresses critical issues in contemporary education reform and shows how cherished truisms about education and child development have led to unintended and negative consequences.   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.  


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In Why Knowledge Matters, influential scholar E. D. Hirsch, Jr., addresses critical issues in contemporary education reform and shows how cherished truisms about education and child development have led to unintended and negative consequences.   Hirsch, author of The Knowledge Deficit, draws on recent findings in neuroscience and data from France to provide new evidence fo In Why Knowledge Matters, influential scholar E. D. Hirsch, Jr., addresses critical issues in contemporary education reform and shows how cherished truisms about education and child development have led to unintended and negative consequences.   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.  

30 review for Why Knowledge Matters: Rescuing Our Children from Failed Educational Theories

  1. 4 out of 5

    Chris Wejr

    So many conversations in education focus on skill development - creative thinking, critical thinking, comprehension, metacognition, etc. These are important but only if we keep our sights on the importance of knowledge development. Hirsch makes it very clear that skills like reading comprehension and critical thinking cannot take place without core knowledge. He also challenges the reader to reflect upon much of the progressive ideas in education to ensure there is research and evidence to suppo So many conversations in education focus on skill development - creative thinking, critical thinking, comprehension, metacognition, etc. These are important but only if we keep our sights on the importance of knowledge development. Hirsch makes it very clear that skills like reading comprehension and critical thinking cannot take place without core knowledge. He also challenges the reader to reflect upon much of the progressive ideas in education to ensure there is research and evidence to support these ideas. He shares some ideas (some that would require a national shift) about pedagogy and curriculum that would help ensure more knowledge and resulting equity for our students. With so many books out there that share “shiny” new ideas that are not supported by research, this makes this book that much more important to balance what we do and where we are going in Education. This is a MUST read.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Nils

    Sehr viele gute Argumente dafür, dass Kompetenzen eben nicht alles sind und immer auf bestehendem Wissen aufbauen müssen. Allerdings sehr auf das us-amerikanische System ausgerichtet.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Angela

    A little hard to get through for me, but the message was important. A shared common knowledge is essential for communities to thrive and for increased comprehension throughout a lifetime of learning. Hirsch cites evidence that the turning of American curriculum to "skills" at the expense of acquiring knowledge has led to decrease in test scores. He argues that there is no "comprehension skill," but rather the ability to comprehend new material is vastly improved when there is a solid foundation A little hard to get through for me, but the message was important. A shared common knowledge is essential for communities to thrive and for increased comprehension throughout a lifetime of learning. Hirsch cites evidence that the turning of American curriculum to "skills" at the expense of acquiring knowledge has led to decrease in test scores. He argues that there is no "comprehension skill," but rather the ability to comprehend new material is vastly improved when there is a solid foundation of knowledge and uses his position to poke holes in the idea that because there is such a vast amount of knowledge now, it is better to teach how to acquire that information that to commit facts to memory. The author cites the Japanese curriculum and numerous other case studies that support his theory. I think that his position is controversial because society balks at the idea of ultimate truth and morality. I do see the danger of having a national curriculum if it is used to indoctrinate students in immoral and dishonest ideas, such as communism and socialism. I liked this quote "The American concern to avoid "indoctrination" simply places implicit values out of sight and raises suspicions about the schools, because the values are not openly stated in the curriculum. The separation of honesty, diligence, kindness, loyalty, and other civic virtues from the state. It does not mean abandoning the teaching of civics. To teach no values at all is to evade an elemental duty, and lead to rootlessness and incivility."

  4. 5 out of 5

    Samuel Lubell

    This book continue's Hirsch's idea that instead of teaching reading skills, such as how to find the main idea, we should be teaching and testing content. I agree that students need more history and science content, but I believe we can teach vocabulary and reading skills that will help students with unfamiliar material, even if it is easier for students to read material about which they know something. Still, the material on the change in French elementary school is fairly convincing.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Monica

    For me, being a language teacher in a Swedish school, this book was extremely interesting! I recognize a lot of the problems raised by Hirsch and I would urgently like to see a way to improve reading comprehension amongst schoolchildren too. There was some very insightful material on the importance of an extensive vocabulary as well! This is well worth a read for anyone working with education.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Steve

    Hirsch lays out a clear argument as to why educators need to d a much better job of stressing content as well and "critical thinking skills." Hirsch puts much of the blame on the Progressive Educators of the 1920s and 1930s for moving in this direction, but he does, potentially inadvertently, explain how progressive constructs can co-exist with content-rich curriculum programs. Uses the changes in French education in the 1990s as an illustrative example to support his argument.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Eric Kalenze

    Essential reading if you're concerned about improving education in the US. Describes and justifies changes we must make to our approaches and practices, perhaps better than any of his previous work--and, as I've learned so much from Hirsch's previous work, that's saying something. Required.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Margaret Grabowski

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. In 13+ years of experience in literacy, I’ve worked alongside countless teachers who spend hours preparing lessons that incorporate best practices, yet many of us fail to see the results of our dedication. It's demoralizing. Over the years, I have been consistently in search of a new-and-improved strategy to teach comprehension, but I have never questioned the foundation upon which our reading instruction is based - the standards - until now. Why Knowledge Matters brilliantly explains why our nat In 13+ years of experience in literacy, I’ve worked alongside countless teachers who spend hours preparing lessons that incorporate best practices, yet many of us fail to see the results of our dedication. It's demoralizing. Over the years, I have been consistently in search of a new-and-improved strategy to teach comprehension, but I have never questioned the foundation upon which our reading instruction is based - the standards - until now. Why Knowledge Matters brilliantly explains why our nation is struggling with reading scores. While there is no way to capture the strength of Hirsch’s claim in a summary, here are some key points. Hirsch points out that since reading standards are devoid of content, they claim to assess thinking skills. However, when students read a text, they comprehend (i.e. think) through two main avenues (besides decoding): accessing content knowledge and vocabulary knowledge. As Hirsch points out, nations that prepare their students effectively for reading assessments are those with knowledge-building curricula that specify the core knowledge students should master at each grade level. Through cross-disciplinary units, these curricula teach students the knowledge and vocabulary they need to master grade-level content, and they build upon this knowledge in subsequent grade levels. When students read, they have the knowledge and vocabulary to comprehend, and thus to answer reading questions correctly. Throughout the book, Hirsch points out how our educational system has suffered in other ways due to the lack of a knowledge-building curriculum. This includes blaming teachers for their lack of effectiveness, decrying the long-term effectiveness of Pre-K and Head Start, and widening the achievement gap between advantaged and poor children. He makes a compelling argument for the implementation of a core knowledge building curriculum beginning in Pre-K, and I am super-proud to be working in a district that is taking this approach across multiple grade levels. This is a must-read for anyone interested in improving literacy! #knowledgematters #curriculummatters

  9. 4 out of 5

    James Lamont

    Hirsch makes very good points regarding the failure of the "skills-based" approach and the imperative need for a common curriculum. If I were to rate the book based on this analysis alone it would get five stars. However, the author either does not understand, or more likely is willfully ignorant of, the valid criticism that a homogeneous curriculum as he describes runs the very real danger of cultural imperialism. At multiple points in the book he dismisses the criticism out of hand, arguing tha Hirsch makes very good points regarding the failure of the "skills-based" approach and the imperative need for a common curriculum. If I were to rate the book based on this analysis alone it would get five stars. However, the author either does not understand, or more likely is willfully ignorant of, the valid criticism that a homogeneous curriculum as he describes runs the very real danger of cultural imperialism. At multiple points in the book he dismisses the criticism out of hand, arguing that because a common curriculum is effective at closing the achievement gap, it cannot be harmful. By 'uplifting' the disadvantaged, he does not consider that enforced conformity to a WASPish status quo silences minority experiences. An easy solution which Hirsch barely considers would be to build a much more inclusive common curriculum, rather than disparaging 'multiculturalism' at every condescending opportunity. The most egregious excerpt: "There have been in history benign empires (the Roman Empire at times) that did not force people to give up their local languages, modes, and customs, and the United States has been one of them." Imagine being a Harvard professor and believing this.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Laura Gomez

    I cannot say that I completely agree with Hirsch (it’s hard to not feel at least a tinge of white elitism) BUT I have to give this book 5 stars because it profoundly altered the way that I think about education and knowledge. I’ve been an elementary school teacher for 6 years, read many books on education, and this far and away felt the most important of all I’ve read because of it’s stray from repetitive dominant thought in education and the courage to truly challenge the status quo, regardless I cannot say that I completely agree with Hirsch (it’s hard to not feel at least a tinge of white elitism) BUT I have to give this book 5 stars because it profoundly altered the way that I think about education and knowledge. I’ve been an elementary school teacher for 6 years, read many books on education, and this far and away felt the most important of all I’ve read because of it’s stray from repetitive dominant thought in education and the courage to truly challenge the status quo, regardless of the fact that it’s at times uncomfortable. I cannot recommend this book more to anyone in education or interested the education of their children or at large. Highly interesting, engaging, well written, and critically important.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Anh Hoang

    Cuốn sách này khiến cho mình liên tưởng đến hệ thống giáo dục nước nhà hiện tại, cũng có những điểm được và chưa được. Mình đồng ý rằng chúng ta cần chú trọng hơn đến các nội dung mang tính lịch sử và khoa học, nhưng mình cũng ko đồng tình hoàn toàn với cách nhìn nhận và các giải pháp mà tác giả đưa ra đối với các nội dung language.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Karla Winick-Ford

    I loved reading this text! It's informative, supportive, and an enjoyable read. Addresses the crisis we have, as well as historical context and a suggested way to break the cycle. The sections on France and Japan were especially interesting, as well as Hart/Risley's research which was built from Stich's research. Worth a look at.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Peter

    Essential book on education. Demonstrates that "critical thinking" is domain-specific and non-transferable. Students must develop knowledge and expertise in order to think critically in a domain. Dispels modern myths such as "the students can Google it," "reading is a knowledge-independent skill," and "it doesn't matter what students read as long as they read."

  14. 4 out of 5

    Mandy

    I appreciate the data Mr. Hirsch shares that shows how current educational philosophies are failing. We are not headed in the right direction. I don’t know if I agree with all of his solutions, but I appreciate his expertise and efforts to speak out.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Jenny Olechowski

    Absolutely comforting, validating and reassuring that not everyone has blindly passed by the "let's stop and think before proceeding" pathway to school improvement.

  16. 5 out of 5

    B

    This was a convincing case for teaching knowledge as opposed to skills. I would like to see the opposing argument before making up my mind one way or the other though.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Jeanette Speka

    Excellent. A must read for educators and others who care about improving our education system.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Seth

    This book really made me think about the educational system that we have built here in the US and what there is to be done to fix it. Hirsch gives some good suggestions. Being in an independent school myself, I embrace suggested moves toward a "lowercase core curriculum." Thesis: "Imparting a well-rounded, knowledge-based curriculum will be the solution to many recalcitrant problems of our schooling, including preschool fadeout, unacceptable achievement gaps, and the tribulations of the Common Co This book really made me think about the educational system that we have built here in the US and what there is to be done to fix it. Hirsch gives some good suggestions. Being in an independent school myself, I embrace suggested moves toward a "lowercase core curriculum." Thesis: "Imparting a well-rounded, knowledge-based curriculum will be the solution to many recalcitrant problems of our schooling, including preschool fadeout, unacceptable achievement gaps, and the tribulations of the Common Core State Standards." This thesis is a corrective to language arts standards that, for lack of a better option, emphasize skills rather than knowledge. Notations from my reading - Vocabulary size is the single most reliable correlate to reading ability, but vocabulary size is not to be the aim of schooling; it grows as a consequence of an ever-expanding broad knowledge, and is an easy check for success. Strategy exercises are essentially useless after ten lessons. Remove the high stakes environment to allow schools to focus on the long arc of knowledge acquisition, which is the route to producing good readers. The "skill set" that most readily determines reading comprehension is relevant knowledge. In absence of a specific curriculum, tests cannot be devised that is based on specific curricular content, so . . . skills. There is no evidence that leveled reader bins develop deep student interest or makes better readers. Real knowledge breeds real interest and individuality. Priority of listening and talking for early grades. de Groot's chess experiment - pattern recognition is vital to memorization When we learn words, we learn them along with the bits of past contexts in which we first heard them; this helps us learn nuances of the words. Common Core - it can work, but only in the context of knowledge-rich curricula. Reading tests are always knowledge tests in disguise. Really good discussion of informational texts. Really bad discussion of imaginative literature. Powerful discussion of PISA scores in reading in France and Sweden that likely parallel the story for the U.S. as well.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Jamie

    Picked up this book because I was interested in the science of education, and it did not disappoint. Lots of great and unexpected points made in this book that are backed up by studies and statistics. The author works to show what Common Core could be if it were implemented in a more thoughtful way, as in the case of Core Knowledge Sequence schools. Opened my eyes to the reasons behind our nation's educational troubles and what really works instead.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth Clayton-Bennett

    I remember when Hirsch's first book on cultural literacy first came out. I was a graduate student and my main complaint was that his view of cultural literacy was much too limited, too "dead, white, male." Although he has tried to address that issue in this book, I think it is still a valid complaint. I read this current book, though, as a middle school teacher in a low-income school with numerous English Learners. I found myself agreeing, for the most part, with his assertion that students need I remember when Hirsch's first book on cultural literacy first came out. I was a graduate student and my main complaint was that his view of cultural literacy was much too limited, too "dead, white, male." Although he has tried to address that issue in this book, I think it is still a valid complaint. I read this current book, though, as a middle school teacher in a low-income school with numerous English Learners. I found myself agreeing, for the most part, with his assertion that students need background knowledge and vocabulary, and that the emphasis on skills over knowledge deprives them of that. Students have trouble with reading comprehension often because they lack the necessary knowledge and vocabulary to comprehend what they are reading. And yet, Hirsch still seems regard the past, when somehow schools taught a common, content-based curriculum, too nostalgically. More frustratingly, there was little attention paid to actual pedagogy. How should one teach this hypothetical content? So I am still searching for the answers I need for my students.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Kelly Broersma

    Every educator should give this book a read. Hirsch has alway been an advocate for general knowledge in education and this book is interesting. I encourage parents to read as well, but might feel a little academic for the average reader.

  22. 5 out of 5

    K

    If you're looking for reasons why we just aren't making better more consistent progress or any at all in some instances, in education, this book will give you a lot to think about.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Garrett

  24. 4 out of 5

    Chris M

  25. 4 out of 5

    Michael Mahar

  26. 4 out of 5

    Dr Andrew Chandler-Grevatt

  27. 5 out of 5

    AngieM

  28. 4 out of 5

    Juul Beckers

  29. 4 out of 5

    Janice Pang

  30. 4 out of 5

    Charlotte Osborn-bensaada

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