E.D. Hirsch

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E.D. Hirsch
By Paul Denman

Philosophy of Education

Hirsch founded, who the Core Knowledge Foundation in 1986, wrote Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs To Know in 1987. He also co-wrote The Dictionary of Cultural Literacy in 1988. In 1996, he published The Schools We Need and Why We Don't Have Them. Hirsch outlines a philosophy of education that focuses on a universal core curriculum that is structured to the point that every school teaches the same content in the same grade level. The intent of his curriculum is to create citizens that are culturally literate who can compete in today's world.

Hirsch's Philosophy
Hirsch's ideology is considered extremely controversial. Although Hirsch is a liberal, he has been labeled by many an advocate for a conservative curriculum and a promoter of "drill and kill" pedagogy. He has been criticized for not observing differences in learning styles and for omitting multiculturalism from his arguments and failing to see race, class and gender's influence in the classroom.

Gradually, however, as students who attended schools that have adopted his philosophy and curriculum demonstrated superior achievement. Thus, his ideas have become widely accepted. (www.coreknowledge.com) There are now over 1,000 of these "Core Knowledge" schools in the United States.

Hirsch favors a more Augustinian view and tells the story in his book from St. Augustine's Confessions about the young Augustine and his friends stealing pears. He believes that Augustine considered human nature perverse and corrupt from birth. "The aim of education is not to follow human nature but to correct it, to set it on a path of virtue… to give one's fallen natural instincts free rein would beget a life of greed, selfishness and crime" (Hirsch, 1996, p.73). Hirsch writes that the aim of civilization, and of education, is to follow nature less than to guide it toward humane and worthy ends. This is an ancient principle and the ideology of many cultures in many countries.

Hirsch's Critic of Romanticism

Fundamental to Hirsch's Philosophy is his harsh criticism of Romanticism. According to Hirsch, European Romanticism, has been a post-Enlightenment mishap, a mistake He says we need to correct. (Hirsch, 1996). Hirsch argues that we cannot blame the media, the breakdown of the family, poverty, racism, underfunding of schools or any other external factor for the unsuccessful education system. Hirsch believes the primary cause of education's failures is a philosophy of education derived from Rousseau and John Dewey. This philosophy, known as "progressive education," is based on the romantic ideal that each child has an innate, instinctive tendency to follow his or her own proper development (Hirsch, 1987). It would seem that according to progressivism the content of education is irrelevant; that students should be allowed to study whatever they are interested in. What is most important is the developing of desired skills such as problem-solving, decision making, critical thinking and other higher order thinking skills. This is one of the fundamental points of progressive education.

According to Hirsch, European Romanticism introduced two main ideas to education. First, Romanticism held:

"that human nature is innately good, and should therefore be encouraged to take its natural course, unspoiled by the artificial impositions of social prejudice and convention. Second, Romanticism concluded that the child is neither a scaled-down, ignorant version of the adult nor a formless piece of clay in need of molding, rather, the child is a special being in its own right with unique, trustworthy—-indeed holy---impulses that should be allowed to develop and run their course" (Hirsch, 1996, p.74).

For Romantics the natural goodness of humans is corrupted and damaged by civilization. In Europe Romanticism is associated with Rousseau, Wordsworth and Coleridge, and progressive...
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