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Paperback The Schools We Need: And Why We Don't Have Them Book

ISBN: 0385495242

ISBN13: 9780385495240

The Schools We Need: And Why We Don't Have Them

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This paperback edition, with a new introduction, offers a powerful, compelling, and unassailable argument for reforming America's schooling methods and ideas--by one of America's most important educators, and author of the bestselling Cultural Literacy. For over fifty years, American schools have operated under the assumption that challenging children academically is unnatural for them, that teachers do not need to know the subjects they teach, that...

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A rebuttal to post-modern educational theory

As I read this book I reflected on how current formalistic educational theory parallels post-modernism in literature and visual art. In art and literature, the importance of formalism grew until content became nothing more than an mannequin for displaying the artist's cleverness, giving us conceptual art and critically impeccable novels that were totally devoid of plot or ideas. This parallels the conflict between "critical thinking" against "cultural capital." Cultural capital says that you have to know what the human experience talking about before you can join in the conversation. Critical thinking says that this conversation is no more than a laboratory for testing various forms of analysis. Literary post-modernism ran out of steam in the late 70s and conceptual art followed shortly thereafter. If critical thinking works, then schools would be producing students who are capable of deep analysis but no ideas or data to apply it too. In truth, data is introduced and assimilited in the classroom, but its presentation is usually too arbitrary to make a lasting impression. It's treated as discrete data, the students perceive its lack of importance, they forget it, and the next time you try to present it, they say, "Why are you wasting my time with this crap when I could be downloading ring tones for my cell phone?" Conversely, the progressive school complains that cultural capital would fill the little minds with data but no faculties for analysis of the information. In truth, this misconstrues Hirsch's thesis, because he's really saying that students need to learn how the human experience encompasses a tradition of critical thinking, and that students will see a more urgent need for critical thinking when the information they use is important and presented in a comprehensive and coherent manner. My first criticism of this book are that justifications for many of the author's supporting observations are thin. They should be corroborated more thoroughly or more closely correlated to the sources he's already used. In addition, the history of progressive trends in American education since 1913 is somewhat oversimplified. While the undercurrent of 19th century romanticism he describes was always present, the objectives and rationales of progressive movements evolved with the social, political, and economic context. For a more concise examination of the history of progressive education, read Diane Ravitch's Left Back: A Century of Battles Over School Reform.

They've Spent Years Telling Me What My Learning Style Is....

... When the hell are they going to teach me something?!Courtesy of the graduate of an affluent public school district, where every Thursday afternoon for a semester the Junior class had a Unit on Self-Esteem.They did not, however, learn to write a five-page paper, or to identify theme and point-of-view in fictions, or the historic origins of the democratic ideals of America's founders, or the twelve points Woodrow Wilson promoted at the end of the First World War (there was more than one???), or the difference between compound and simple interest paid on savings.Hirsch offends so often because what he says is irrefutable: one must have language and ideas to use as comparisons and contrasts to all texts, cultural and written, or one cannot achieve higher level reasoning skills. This notion is so threatening to those without higher reasoning skills that they call names -- elitist, classist, mono-culturalist. But the fact is that ignoring the need for a common core of information about which people within a culture (or say, even at a given location at a specific moment in time) can discourse, we create an artificial elite that "represents them because they cannot represent themselves" -- vanguardist intellectuals who become, themselves, a privileged overclass who make their living protecting others from gaining the privilege and mastery they desire.You go, E.D.!

The Emperor Has No Clothes

I found The Schools We Need by E.D. Hirsch, Jr. to be a much-needed oasis of common sense and academically rigorous prose in a seemingly endless desert of single-perspective educational fluff. From the first few pages, one thing became absolutely clear: I am not alone in questioning some of the major premises that undergird current educational theory. By the end of the first chapter, a second notion became equally clear: This book will never see the light of day as assigned reading in any of UF's teacher training classes. I am sure that some would be surprised to find myself, an uncompromising libertarian, agreeing so passionately with a self-avowed liberal's liberal like Hirsch. While I certainly disagree with Hirsch's final prescription for solving America's educational crisis as well as his leftist understanding of true equality, we both agree that something is amiss in America's colleges of education. I was glad to see Hirsch dedicate the last thirty pages of his book to the educational terms and phrases that promulgate colleges of education (including UF's). These phrases (many of which have been simply renamed and then reissued) have dominated the discourse in every one of my education classes. The reoccurrence of these pieces of shallow rhetoric have caused me to question the very intellectual and moral integrity of the teachers that "teach" them to preservice students. This indoctrination of phraseology (as codified in such required text as Methods that Matter) is ironic in that the very people who stress critical thinking are actually those that seem to be incapable of thinking critically. They can do no more than parrot such unfounded and nonsensical phrases such as "Teach the child, not the subject," "Drill and kill," "Facts are inferior to understanding," and "Learning to learn." I was also extremely glad to see someone counter the ridiculous claims made by a previous teacher of mine that all research ever done claims this or that progressive theory is superior. I have sat in disbelief on many occasions as my former teacher made claims that could very easily be refuted. Hirsch makes ample note of this as well as explains the odd separation between professors of education and professors of various disciplines on college campuses. Though I believe that enrolled in and passed UF's Foundations of Education course (with an A), I entered into reading The Schools We Need not knowing the reason for much of this strange separation. It was comforting to learn of its revealing origins as well as to gain a more accurate history of American education in the 20th century. As is probably expected, I found The Schools We Need to be highly effective in promoting strong, research backed teaching methods as well as a solid critique of the teaching of progressivist schools of education. However, there are areas in which Hirsch could do a better job in securing his arguments. For one, he does not make clear exactly who is involved in t

In response to review of 7/26/00, et.al.

I don't like to see Hirsch's work obscured by simplistic charges that he urges schools to abandon the teaching of critical thinking skills. He simply presents evidence for the Jeffersonian view that critical thinking ability is dependent upon factual knowledge, that a school which prioritizes critical thinking so as to neglect the requisites for acquiring knowledge (reading fluency, a strong vocabulary, communication skills, etc.) will fail all the way around. Having had children in that scenario, I affirm Hirsch's position. Those with a burning desire to hold well-informed opinions on education reform should know Gardner's work. They should also avoid the pitfall of allowing judgments on education to be informed solely by members of the education community; the science community has important contributions to make via research methodologies and the knowledge emerging from the Decade of the Brain. The report of the National Reading Panel - and the grounds upon which some educators have discounted it - is instructive. The Panel felt charged by Congress to apply the standards of scientific evidence - methodological rigor, reliability, validity, replicability, applicability - to its review of the existing research on reading instruction. By that standard, only quantitative research was deemed valid in answering cause-and-effect questions as to the efficacy of various elements of reading instruction. That meant that the qualitative research often used to establish efficacy for `pure Whole Language' methods was found inadequate to that purpose. The Whole Language faithful saw these scientific standards as a mere reflection of `philosophical orientation' and bias on the part of the Panel's majority and attacked the relevancy of the Report. The morass of American education - and the skeptical response of teachers to research claims - is better understood when one reads that less than 1/3 of the 115,000 reading studies conducted over the past 30+ years met standards that rendered them useful to the Panel. Presumably, many were designed by educators with inadequate training in scientific standards for research. (Such a disconnect between the education and science communities - further illustrated in the current math wars - is not helping the teaching profession with its respect issue.) Speaking only as a parent who felt charged to learn as much as possible so as make better decisions for my children, it seems to me that the research emerging from cognitive psych and neurology spells trouble for the holistic ideologies that undergird `progressive' education. Empirical support for explicit and systematic instruction of a pre-set hierarchy of skills (the Hirsch camp) appears to be on the grow. At the same time, neuroscience is helping us understand that the processes of learning to read, write and compute are not `natural' to the brain - that the Romantic ideals of naturalism and developmentalism, which

Higher Ed is not immune.

I, too, speak from long experience in k-12 education, although most of it belongs to my parents and grandparents. After 10 years teaching boring math to 8th graders - Hirsch's indictment of "spiraling," reteaching the same stuff every year, is nowhere more evident than in K-8 math classes - I moved on to teaching undergraduates. Not only is it true that they are increasingly unprepared to do college level coursework, but the educationists are trying to foist the same destructive practices on college faculty that have ruined K-12 education and that Hirsch describes so clearly in this book.Regional accreditation groups have forced "authentic" assessment (as opposed to grades) into all coursework and programs. We are urged to teach processes rather than facts - students practice the scientific method without learning taxonomy in biology courses, writing without studying history, literature, or science - and traditional courses are replaced by "culturally appropriate studies."Hirsch and his colleagues at exclusive institutions probably are unaware of the dangers; I doubt that Harvard or Duke deans talk about teaching "critical thinking skills" with their faculties. Since applications at these school exceed acceptances, they will probably resist pressures to change - at least for some time.However, go into the middle grade public colleges, or especially into community colleges, and it's all there in force - endless agonizing over improving teaching strategies, watering down course content, improving student services,... These schools are desperate to maintain and/or increase enrollments, and to appease parents' and state legislatures' attacks. They will do almost anything to recruit and retain students, even if it means giving out meaningless degrees. I'd like to require all faculty members and administrators at the college where I teach to read this book; sadly, a lot of them probably lack the skills to do so.
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