Common standards: First, do no harm

The proposed common English language standards should state clearly and forcefully that reading, writing, speaking and listening  “are not intended to be explicitly taught as skills,” writes E.D. Hirsch in Education Week.

Rather, even these preliminary standards need to stress that academic content—in literature, history, science, and the arts—must be taught coherently and cumulatively in order to impart the requisite language competencies.

The vague use of “standards” has “enabled writers to avoid making difficult but necessary curricular decisions that could guide the creators of classroom materials, teachers, and test-makers,” Hirsch writes.

There are two ways in which makers of standards could overcome the political difficulties of performing their chief duty: giving useful guidance. One would be to offer one or more exemplary curriculum guides. For “college- and career-ready” verbal standards, it would mean grade-by-grade curricular guides from kindergarten through 12th grade.

Another way of being actually useful would be to set forth in great detail the kind of criteria a local curriculum guide would have to fulfill to meet its pastoral obligations.

If we don’t decide what content should be taught, the textbook makers will do it for us, “even if it is trivial, fragmented, skills-based content,” Hirsch warns.

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  1. In comm arts, there’s no need for a textbook at all.


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