Today I read about the philosophy of an American education ‘guru’ called ED Hirsch (not sure why he spells his name like this. Is it E.D. or Ed short for Edward (I hope not!) or something else?) Apparently his philosophy is about to have a huge impact on UK government primary education: And his philosophy is the complete antithesis of what I believe in. You can read about it here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2012/oct/15/hirsch-core-knowledge-curriculum-review
Hirsch believes there is a body of core knowledge every child, at a certain age, should know. He apparently developed his educational philosophy because, “He was shocked to discover those from poorer backgrounds struggled to read a passage on the surrender of General Robert E Lee near their home town of Richmond – because they lacked the necessary background knowledge of the American Civil War.” That would be sad to me too but I wouldn’t assume those kids had never been taught about the American Civil War but rather I would wonder HOW they were taught.
I could imagine that they hadn’t found the topic engaging and this could be in part because their teacher hadn’t transmitted the exciting fact that the American Civil War was, fascinatingly, literally so close to their real lives. Perhaps they hadn’t been to see some local historic sites ideally peopled by actors in costume or perhaps they hadn’t had a chance to read primary sources in their local library or had the chance to do so from the original in their local museum. Even if they hadn’t been taught about the American Civil War would it matter if they were really knowledgeable and excited about some other historical event, perhaps somewhere else, perhaps more relevant to their individual heritage? I would agree with Hirsch that it’s important to learn something about where one lives as well as where one’s from but it can be done so that it’s relevant, engaging and memorable and this should be extremely flexible, especially for a country as diverse and huge as the US.
I am amazed that Hirsch develops a theory about knowledge as a quantifiable commodity rather than considering something far more obvious to me; whether the problem is to do with quality of teaching. I think it’s far more obvious to wonder whether it was sub-standard. This is possibly not the teacher’s fault, probably a systematic problem – pressure to get kids to learn facts and figures to pass tests makes history very dry, forgettable and irrelevant, even local history. I would not then jump to making up a list of ‘must learn’ knowledge. What a boring world he’s going to make. I think it far more interesting for us all to know all sorts of fascinating things that we can then discuss, learning from each other than all know a little about the same very limited things. I am far more concerned that kids learn the skills of learning and that they learn what they’re most interested in, possibly from a widely proscribed area of knowledge, perhaps more specialized and in-depth. I am concerned that they get a love of learning, know how to learn anything they want to learn and learn all the time. I would also hope they are so enthusiastic about learning, they enthuse about it wherever they go; ambassadors not of specific knowledge but the quest for it, sometimes even loving the journey just for its own sake.
The strange ‘Hirschian’ list the government has come up with is terribly depressing. I mean, ‘tap dancing’ for Year 2s (ages 6-7). Why not any other kind of dancing? Why not let the kids have a flavour for a few different kids or choose what they’d like to have a go at? Narrowing the curriculum even further than it is already does seem worryingly like making schools even more like factories, set up for the convenience of teachers and administrators. But many teachers don’t want convenience, they want room for creativity, they want to treat their pupils are far as possibly, and the possibility is very limited, as individuals. Hirsch equals boxes and ticks and it’s terrifying. I am just so, so grateful that my kids are out of it. But are yours? If not, how do you feel? What are you going to do about it in the US or the UK?
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IF YOU’RE NEW TO HOMESCHOOLINGMIDDLEEAST, welcome! I highly recommend that you start reading from ‘Day 1’. The fastest way to access this is to look for ‘Archives’ on the right hand side of the home page, click on ‘February 2012’ and scroll down to the bottom of the page that opens. If you want a quick first visit, you could type a term e.g. ‘socialization’ or ‘university’, into the ‘Search’ box or of course you could just read my latest posts without doing anything!
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