Knowledge matters

E. D. Hirsch’s knowledge-based curricula is the key to “Massachusetts’s miraculous educational reforms,” writes Sol Stern in City Journal.  After the 1993 education reform bill, Massachusetts wrote content-rich grade-by-grade standards backed by testing, Stern writes.

The history and social-science curriculum, for instance, makes clear that students should be taught explicitly about their rich heritage, rather than taught how to learn about that heritage. The curriculum calls for schools to “impart to their students the learning necessary for an informed, reasoned allegiance to the ideals of a free society.” This learning includes “the vision of a common life in liberty, justice, and equality as expressed in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution two centuries ago.”

While other states have seen little progress in reading and math, Massachusetts students have moved to the top on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and do much better than the U.S. as a whole on Trends in International Math and Science Studies (TIMSS).

Stern’s children were students at a sought-after Manhattan public school, William Tecumseh Sherman, whose teachers and principals had trained at Columbia University’s progressive Teachers College.

I once asked my younger son and some of his classmates, all top fifth-grade students, whether they knew anything about the historical figure after whom their school was named. Not only were they clueless about the military leader who delivered the final blow that brought down America’s slave empire; they hardly knew anything about the Civil War, either. When I complained to the school’s principal, he reassured me: “Our kids don’t need to learn about the Civil War. What they are learning at P.S. 87 is how to learn about the Civil War.”

After reading Hirsch, the Sterns “accelerated our children’s supplementary home schooling” to ensure that they developed a base of knowledge.

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