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Core Knowledge:

Textbooks That Cover What Parents Want Taught


Q. When I look through my son's school textbooks, I don't see very many of the stories and subjects that I used to enjoy studying. I know things have changed in a generation of textbooks, but I feel badly that he isn't reading a lot of the same great books, poems and other pieces of writing that I loved as a child. What can I do?


You can do what a lot of parents are doing, to deal with an overstandardized, disappointing curriculum with textbooks that are overstuffed with material that isn't very helpful or interesting: you can supplement your child's educational reading by buying textbooks on the free market.


One series that comes highly recommended is the Core Knowledge series, by E.D. Hirsch. He is a retired professor of education, humanities and English from the University of Virgina. He became concerned about the lack of what he called "cultural literacy" among Americans, and wrote the book Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know in 1987. He followed that up with The Schools We Need and Why We Don't Have Them, and The Knowledge Deficit.


Hirsch's basic concern is that people who don't have much knowledge aren't very good readers and aren't very good thinkers. Even though he is a social liberal, he became alarmed at how the liberal establishment within public education began to value the "process" of learning and thinking over the "content" of learning and thinking. Schools focus more on teaching kids "skills" than actual facts and content on which to use those skills. It used to be that you went to school to gain knowledge; now, Hirsch warned, we are going to school supposedly to learn how to learn, but we graduate without much in the way of a knowledge base on which more knowledge can be built.


Therefore, his Core Knowledge curriculum is made up of what a large team of experts in various fields - teachers, parents, scientists, historians, multicultural leaders, and so on - decided should be in a "common core" of curriculum in America's schools. It's supposed to be the academic content that no child should go without.


The Core Knowledge textbooks are designed to be supplemental to the existing, skills-based curriculum in schools, in sequence with what's already being taught, but supplying those important and culturally-relevant materials which are too often missing in the public-school curriculum.


An example from the Core Knowledge website is the common second-grade social studies focus on the local community, chiefly discussing the presence of the local park, library, fire station and shopping mall. In stark contrast, the Core Knowledge textbook for second-grade social studies delves into China, India, ancient Greece and the American Civil War.


Some educators have complained that using a pre-selected curriculum limits their academic freedom of choice, but the Core Knowledge response is that most educators find it liberating, not confining, to have these materials gathered in advance, and they are still free to teach the concepts as they would like. For instance, they can lead the children in putting on a short play about China, or to construct a world globe out of papier mache, or to work as a group on a model of a battle in the Civil War.


The goal is for children to leave school with a large amount of "shared knowledge" that can help them unite in an increasingly knowledge-based America standing on a large piece of common ground.

Homework: See


By Susan Darst Williams Reading 17 2008

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