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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Knowledge isn't just for Republicans

Teaching knowledge is not just for Republicans or conservatives, writes Natalie Wexler on Minding the Gap. Anyone who values equity should demand equal access to knowledge and vocabulary, including knowledge of mainstream Western culture, for all students. What advantaged students learn at home from their educated parents, the disadvantaged need to learn at school so they'll be able to understand what they read and keep on learning.

The author of The Knowledge Gap, Wexler is an eloquent advocate for the importance of teaching academic knowledge and vocabulary. As a result, educators think she's a Republican, which she is not.

I quoted Wexler in a recent post on a new long-term study: Low-income students who attended Core Knowledge charters in kindergarten through fourth grade closed the socioeconomic achievement gap in reading, math and science on state tests by fifth grade, doing as well as children from higher-income families.

The schools used a curriculum based on the Core Knowledge Sequence, which "immerses children in . . . history, geography, science and other subjects," writes Wexler. "Students spend several weeks learning about each topic," and reading and writing about it.

But some left-of-center teachers denounce Core Knowledge's curriculum, known as CKLA, as "Eurocentric," she writes.

Education Week's story on the study asked if CKLA is "culturally responsive" and quoted a teacher calling it "a master narrative curriculum." The teacher complained kindergarteners are asked to sing about Christopher Columbus to the tune of "If You're Happy and You Know It."

Many educators believe a curriculum "should enable Black and brown children to see themselves reflected in the content," and some say it should "center their experience," writes Wexler. They argue that "non-white children will then be more motivated to learn and will achieve at higher levels, narrowing gaps in academic outcomes."

Students could build knowledge and vocabulary by studying Africa or South America, writes Wexler. However, "we live in a predominantly Western culture."

As Baltimore City Schools chief Sonja Santelises has pointed out, limiting Black and brown students to a curriculum that centers their own experience at the cost of educating them about mainstream history and culture can have the unintended effect of perpetuating inequality. “Children from economically under-resourced communities,” she told me in 2021, “need to have and feel the power of being able to tap into the collective knowledge base that drives academic success in this country as well as the knowledge of how they themselves and their communities contribute to that larger narrative.”

The most radical leftists think "passing on knowledge to a younger generation is inherently conservative and patriarchal," she writes. An education school dean once told her he prefers the idea of teachers and students “co-constructing” knowledge.

That means no curriculum at all. Teachers will be free to choose what their students will be taught -- or perhaps individual students will decide what they want to learn. But they don't know what's out there.

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