by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Jenna Robinson of the Martin Center writes about the role of education in unifying the country.
Education reformer E.D. Hirsch may have discovered the cure for our current political divisions—but it won’t be easy.
His prescription is a total overhaul of the K-12 education system as well as our schools of education. Hirsch lays out his plan in a new book, How to Educate a Citizen: The Power of Shared Knowledge to Unify a Nation.
For many years, E.D. Hirsch has been an outsider in education circles. While the education establishment focused on critical thinking, child-centered education, and skills instruction, Hirsch insisted that content matters. Hirsch’s new book expands on that theme. In it, Hirsch repeats the evidence he laid out in his previous works on how the teaching of content affects learning outcomes—including reading comprehension—and student success. But he adds that teaching shared content has another benefit: It gives students a common understanding of our shared history and culture as Americans.
Such commonality would go a long way to healing the great rifts that have developed within our nation.
Although most of Hirsch’s book centers on K-12 education, reform must start with higher education: Specifically, in our schools of education, where the majority of K-12 teachers learn from the same misguided playbook. Hirsch calls it educational romanticism, “the idea that education should be individualized to accord with the child’s nature” and allow them to “construct their own knowledge.” Hirsch is unrepentant in his criticism of ed schools: “The dominant, child-centered idea has been so well indoctrinated in teachers-to-be by our education schools that child-centeredness has wielded an intellectual monopoly.”
It was this philosophy that gave us “whole language” instruction instead of phonics, social studies instead of history, and culturally sensitive math lessons. None of those methods work. And at the same time, they prevent students from assimilating the common language, knowledge, and values that could tie them together as fellow citizens.