“The more you can know, the more you can learn” E. D Hirsch, Jr.
American public education have declined progressively, and undeniably, despite the massive funding of the academic education establishment. This decline is so broad and profound as to be near unbelievable.
For E. D. Hirsch, Jr. the chief cause of this, amazingly so, is the driving academic theory of education that has come to prevail: the theory known as ‘constructivism‘. Developed from the ideas of Rousseau, and John Dewey, and the philosophical school of Pragmatism, this theory, in essence, concludes that education should not teach. Rather, education should facilitate. A child’s natural development, self-esteem, and skills are to be nudged, but specific content, memory, practice, and factual learning are not to be emphasized. Independent exploration is preferable to directed learning. A teacher is to help students ‘learn how to learn’ rather than prescribe what to learn. There is to be no standard curriculum. There is to be no instruction. Casual reading will teach reading just as well as serious reading. Skills will develop independent of content.
E.D. Hirsch explains how this isn’t so. “Literacy requires the early and continued transmission of specific information”. One learns the use and meaning of words and ideas by matching real thoughts and real ideas with real meanings and with real words. Learning is the actual incremental mastering of real and specific content.
“Factual knowledge that is found in books is key to reading comprehension”.
Thus, alas, youth today are going to school, but are not, in fact, being taught. Knowledge testing documents this all too clearly. We are falling behind much of the rest of the world. Well-dressed thirty year olds think France won the Civil War
The very advantage of effective culture has been for teaching future generations the hard-earned knowledge they would otherwise have to learn at unnecessary repeat cost. Our constructivist education specifically and quite purposely refuses to provide this advantage.
There is disguised politics here, for there is the belief that directed learning and a prescribed curriculum perpetuate social and political inequality. Not for nothing did John Dewey and others see education as a way to bypass politics to effect change. Bill Ayers, the Weatherman radical, is a Professor of Education.
One can be forgiven for noticing that those whose job is to teach embrace a theory that says they shouldn’t teach.
How do we tell the working class and middle class that their taxes pay for a philosophy of teaching that says to . . . not teach?