The Making of Americans: Democracy and Our Schools

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Yale University Press, Sep 15, 2009 - Education - 256 pages
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From the bestselling author of Cultural Literacy, a passionate and cogent argument for reforming the way we teach our children

Why, after decades of commissions, reforms, and efforts at innovation, do our schools continue to disappoint us?  In this comprehensive and thought-provoking book, educational theorist E. D. Hirsch, Jr. offers a masterful analysis of how American ideas about education have veered off course, what we must do to right them, and most importantly why. He argues that the core problem with American education is that educational theorists, especially in the early grades, have for the past sixty years rejected academic content in favor of “child-centered” and “how-to” learning theories that are at odds with how children really learn.  The result is failing schools and widening inequality, as only children from content-rich (usually better-off) homes can take advantage of the schools’ educational methods.

Hirsch unabashedly confronts the education establishment, arguing that a content-based curriculum is essential to addressing social and economic inequality. A nationwide, specific, grade-by-grade curriculum established in the early school grades can help fulfill one of America’s oldest and most compelling dreams: to give all children, regardless of language, religion, or origins, the opportunity to participate as equals and become competent citizens. Hirsch not only reminds us of these inspiring ideals, he offers an ambitious and specific plan for achieving them.

 

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User Review  - mrtall - LibraryThing

E D Hirsch is a voice crying out in the wilderness. Although he has seen his Core Knowledge curriculum gain a beachhead on the vast and desolate shores of American schooling, he’s getting well on in ... Read full review

Contents

1 The Inspiring Idea of the Common School
1
2 Sixty Years without a Curriculum
34
3 Transethnic America and the Civic Core
65
4 Linguistic America and the Public Sphere
94
Narrowing the Two Achievement Gaps
123
Renewing Public Education
152
Appendix 1 Core Knowledge HistoryGeography Thread K2
189
Appendix 2 Content Is Skill Skill Content
210
Notes
223
Acknowledgments
248
Index
249
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About the author (2009)

Hirsch is a conservative critic best known for his repudiation of critical approaches to literature (chiefly poststructuralism and New Criticism) that assume that the author's intentions do not determine readings. He argues that any such methodology is guilty of "the organic fallacy," the belief that the text leads a life of its own. For Hirsch, the author's authority is the key to literary interpretation: The critic's job is to reproduce textual meaning by recovering the author's consciousness, which guarantees the validity of an interpretation. In his two most important books, Validity in Interpretation (1967) and its sequel, The Aims of Interpretation (1976), Hirsch warns against the "critical anarchy" that follows from the "cognitive atheism" of both relativism and subjectivism. For him, these result from a corollary of the organic fallacy, the thesis that meaning is ultimately indeterminate because it changes over time or with the differing interests and values of different readers. According to Hirsch, meaning does not change; only value or significance does, as readers relate a text's fixed meaning to their cultures. If there is more than one valid interpretation of a text, it is because literature may be reduced to more than one "intrinsic genre" or meaning type---the particular set of conventions governing ways of seeing and of making meaning at the time the author was writing. Many critics suggest that the intentions Hirsch recovers in intrinsic genres are really his own, rather than those of the author, because no one, including Hirsch, can escape his or her historically conditioned frame of reference when developing interpretations of literature. Hirsch's recent books, including Cultural Literacy (1987), are seen as proof of those flaws by those who are troubled by the history and values of the dominant culture that Hirsch insists is the only culture. Hirsch argues that "common knowledge" is being denied minority students and others by feminists and other "radicals" who have undermined the authority of its great texts.

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