“Profound, vital and correct. Hirsch highlights the essence of our American being and the radical changes in education necessary to sustain that essence. Concerned citizens, teachers, and parents take note! We ignore this book at our peril."— Joel Klein, former Chancellor of New York City Public Schools
In this powerful manifesto, the bestselling author of Cultural Literacy addresses the failures of America’s early education system and its impact on our current national malaise, advocating for a shared knowledge curriculum students everywhere can be taught—an educational foundation that can help improve and strengthen America’s unity, identity, and democracy.
In How to Educate a Citizen, E.D. Hirsch continues the conversation he began thirty years ago with his classic bestseller Cultural Literacy, urging America’s public schools, particularly at the elementary level, to educate our children more effectively to help heal and preserve the nation. Since the 1960s, our schools have been relying on “child-centered learning.” History, geography, science, civics, and other essential knowledge have been dumbed down by vacuous learning “techniques” and “values-based” curricula; indoctrinated by graduate schools of education, administrators and educators have believed they are teaching reading and critical thinking skills. Yet these cannot be taught in the absence of strong content, Hirsch argues.
The consequence is a loss of shared knowledge that would enable us to work together, understand one another, and make coherent, informed decisions. A broken approach to school not only leaves our children under-prepared and erodes the American dream but also loosens the spiritual bonds and unity that hold the nation together. Drawing on early schoolmasters and educational reformers such as Noah Webster and Horace Mann, Hirsch charts the rise and fall of the American early education system and provides a blueprint for closing the national gap in knowledge, communications, and allegiance. Critical and compelling, How to Educate a Citizen galvanizes our schools to equip children with the power of shared knowledge.
Hirsch (The Making of Americans), founder of the education nonprofit Core Knowledge Foundation, delivers an impassioned yet myopic call for U.S. elementary schools to adopt a "shared-knowledge curriculum" as a means of improving student performance and healing hyperpartisanship. A "common stock of knowledge" based on "key concepts, historical figures, and events" and shared ideals such as "liberty, equality, and kindness" is the foundation for a competent and unified citizenry, according to Hirsch. He contends that the child-centered approach of contemporary educational theory, with its emphasis on "standards devoid of specific content" and general skills like critical thinking, has driven down America's reading and math scores and led to the current divisive political climate. He cites data from the Lyles-Crouch Traditional Academy in Virginia and charter schools in the Bronx as evidence that a "shared-knowledge approach" raises test scores, narrows the achievement gap, and helps educators to achieve the "double goal of quality and equality." Though he insists that "diversity is not inconsistent with national unity," and presents some intriguing evidence to back his claims about student performance, Hirsch's unwillingness to fully grapple with the question of whose knowledge best defines American history and culture weakens his argument. This well-intentioned treatise falls short.