Schools Minister Nick Gibb is a fan of  Professor ED Hirsch

Curriculum Proposals reflect his approach and ideas

The Governments approach to the new curriculum has been informed by the thinking of Professor ED Hirsch, a traditionalist and opponent of the approach articulated by  the late  John Dewey. Hirsch accused Dewey of creating a form of educational anarchy, of leaving children’s education to themselves. Hirsch asserts that Dewey separated knowledge from education. Dewey criticised traditional education for lacking in holistic understanding of students and their experience  and designing curricula overly focused on content rather than content and process which is judged specifically  by its contribution to the well-being of individuals and society.

Hirsch is often quoted by schools minister Nick Gibb, who is an unabashed admirer of Hirsch, rather than Dewey . Dewey has been labelled a ‘progressive’ meaning that he eschews the traditional approach, which is,  as one might expect, an over- simplification of his position.

Hirsch believes that the basic goal of education in a human community is ‘acculturation’ – in other words the transmission to children of the specific information shared by the adults of the group or community. So knowing key objective facts and possessing a strong foundation of  general knowledge  are at the  very heart  of a good  rounded education. His 1987 book, Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know, appended long lists of facts and tapped a strong current of concern about US education, which continues until today. It was then extended to provide a Core Knowledge Sequence of year-on-year prescriptions for each subject pre-school to Grade 8 (age 13-14). Cultural literacy is the necessary core information that students must have to understand what they read. Young people are not good readers because they lack this  cultural literacy, Hirsch argued  .He set out to remedy the problem by “spelling out, grade by grade, in detail, what students must know in a variety of fields if they are to be competent and understanding readers.” He also said that the more knowledge and skill a person has, the more they can acquire. “Learning builds on learning” and has a multiplier effect.

In addition to this Core Knowledge curriculum, Hirsch launched a system of Core Knowledge schools to teach it along with a Core Knowledge Foundation to support them. Hirsch emphasizes that all learning requires effort. The effort of attention is needed as well as, crucially, repetition.  There is nothing wrong with repetition-indeed its an important tool. He argues that “no matter how much innate maths ability a child has, he or she will not learn the multiplication table effectively by osmosis” Thus, drill and practice are necessary for learning. This is clearly reflected in the proposals for the new Primary curriculum.



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