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The Making of Americans: Democracy and Our Schools Hardcover – September 15, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Hirsch's 1987 bestseller, Cultural Literacy, generated an intense debate over its proposals for education reform, namely that all schools should teach a standard core curriculum—the information every American should be equipped with in order to participate in the national cultural life (e.g., everyone should understand the term Achilles heel; know who said, To be or not to be or who wrote the Gettysburg Address). Hirsch's new book fine-tunes his philosophy while rebutting the criticism that cultural literacy fostered a conservative white curriculum that didn't take into account the learning styles and knowledge base of minority groups. Although must reading for educators, the book undoubtedly will reignite the earlier controversy. For example, Hirsch questions the wisdom of charter schools and educational vouchers, insisting that a trans-ethnic common educational experience can be had only in public schools attended by rich and poor together. However, in the context of the continuing shortcomings of American education and armed with the support of prominent educators, Hirsch once again challenges the prevailing child-centered philosophy, championing a return to a subject-centered approach to learning. (Sept.)
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“The most cogent and persuasive version of [Hirsch’s] views that I have seen. . . .This is not just a good book. It is an important book.”—Robert Scholes, Andrew W. Mellon Professor of Humanities Emeritus, Brown University
(Robert Scholes)

“E. D. Hirsch is one of the very few academics in this country who can write for a wide audience about complex issues without ever condescending, oversimplifying, or falling into a populist rant.”—David Labaree, Professor of Education, Stanford University
(David Labaree)

“In this important defense of the idea of a common national curriculum, E. D. Hirsch makes a lucid and convincing case that our habit of confusing such a curriculum with retrograde social and educational views has given us ‘sixty years without a curriculum.’”—Gerald Graff, 2008 President, Modern Language Association
(Gerald Graff)

“Once again, E.D. Hirsch has written a powerful and illuminating book about public education in America. This time he not only highlights ‘the knowledge deficit’ that has long impaired our students' reading abilities, he also explains how this deficiency is undermining the role of education in developing an informed citizenry. With all the talk in Washington about national standards and what it means for a high school student to be ‘college ready,’ this book is an essential read.”— Joel I. Klein, Chancellor, New York City Department of Education
(Joel I. Klein)

“E.D. Hirsch's The Making of Americans is a wonderful book that is must-reading for everyone who cares about our children and our country. It is the one book I would recommend to every legislator and school board member.”—Diane Ravitch, author of Left Back and The Language Police
(Diane Ravitch)

"In this new book, E.D. Hirsch, a relentless advocate for universal common education, makes clear the very special relationship between education and democracy. Now more than ever we need his lessons to become part of our common wisdom.”—Randi Weingarten, President, The American Federation of Teachers
(Randi Weingarten)

"Based on research in cognitive studies and results from 'core knowledge' schools, Hirsch's case is clear and compelling. His book ought to be read by anyone interested in the education and training of the next generation of Americans."—Glenn C. Altschuler, The Boston Globe
(Glenn C. Altschuler Boston Globe 2009-09-27)

". . . Hirsch builds on [his] earlier work and widens the lens to connect his ideas on education reform to the fundamental rationales for our system of public schools in the United States. . . . American education would be far better off if leaders heeded Hirsch's sound advice to restore a common-core curriculum."—Richard D. Kahlenberg, The American Scholar.
(Richard D. Kahlenberg American Scholar 2009-09-30)

“E. D. Hirsch is an antidote to our culture wars, our polarization, our taste for demagoguery, our feel-goodism. Reading him always reminds me of this country's great potential. That is what makes him such a great American.”--Alan Wolfe, Books & Culture
(Alan Wolfe Books & Culture)

“E. D. Hirsch has contributed what is to me the most persuasive idea of the past half century on how to improve the performance of American education.”--Nathan Glazer, Education Next
(Nathan Glazer Education Next)

“Beyond linking acquired knowledge to viability in the work place. . . [Hirsch] attempts to reclaim public schooling as a fundamental part of the political project embarked upon by the founders and continued by Lincoln.”--Terrence O. Moore, Claremont Review of Books
(Terrence O. Moore Claremont Review of Books)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press; First Edition edition (September 15, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300152817
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300152814
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.8 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #473,559 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Richard B. Schwartz TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 6, 2009
Format: Hardcover
If you're thinking about New Year's wishes, consider the wish that Hirsch's arguments with regard to core curricula would be widely accepted in American grammar school education. He has been making the arguments for decades. They were true when he first made them and they are no less true now. His new book, The Making of Americans, contextualizes them in an interesting way. Basically, the founding fathers recognized the existence of two spheres: the public and private. In the public sphere we communicate with one another as citizens, build our society's polity and economy and subscribe to a set of common, American values. In the private sphere we express our cultural, ethnic and linguistic individuality. The public sphere is the melting pot; the private sphere is the salad bowl. Now, however, we have eschewed the idea of the melting pot and celebrated the salad bowl. We need both.

Education theory, i.e., the education theory of schools of education, has, for over six decades, been `child-centered' rather than `teacher-centered' and it has resisted the notion of a core curriculum, particularly for the grammar school grades. It has demonized core curricula by associating them with `rote memorization' and `drill and grill' pedagogy. There is only one problem: the touchy-feely practices advocated by schools of education are disastrous failures. American test scores are an embarrassment and the results are particularly harsh for the poor.

The schools of education claim that the test scores are low because American education is diverse and many students come from backgrounds of poverty. This is rubbish, Hirsch argues. Other countries have diverse populations and students from poor families; their test scores are higher because they have core curricula.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Martha Rowen on January 3, 2010
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This is a very important book on a vitally important subject. As usual for this author, the book has complex ideas and rich content readable and accessible to a general reader. I have read other books by E.D. Hirsch and recommend them all but found this one especially significant.

As a high school and college teacher, I regularly see the terrible effects that our current educational ideas have had on the most vulnerable and powerless students. This book gives sound ideas on how to reverse this trend.

My complaint is with the formatting by the publisher for the Kindle edition. As I have found so often with Kindle books, the footnote function does not work and, as usual, graphs and charts are often unreadable. I finally called Kindle to complain and they told me that publishers often choose not to activate the links to the footnotes. Shame on Yale University Press and all the other publishers who do this! I have definitely given up buying Kindle editions of books with footnotes. If the publishers think that means I'll be buying print editions, they are mistaken: I'll take them out of a library. These are exactly the kind of books that are perfect for a Kindle if they would just make them work. I would love to be able to carry around a library of this type of bulky book and go easily from one to the other for reference, to check footnotes quickly (and perhaps immediately download a Kindle edition of a book in the footnote) and to be able to go quickly to charts and graphs and be able to actually read them!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By G. Pollack on February 23, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I read about the appearance of Mr. Hirsch's new book in a review article in the New York Review of Books (in a November '09 issue). I wasted no time in procuring a copy of the book for my use. When I read it, I was thoroughly pleased. I realized I was getting an up-to-date, firsthand report on Hirsch's already very influential views. Hirsch writes eloquently and persuasively. And he sets forth a point of view about education that is really very hard to argue with. It comes to this: Education is beset by two problems: quality and equality. Students are faring poorly in their test scores. That's bad enough. But children of certain backgrounds are faring more poorly than children of other backgrounds. That's really awful, inasmuch as it suggests a systemic disparity in the way we school children of different ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds. What to do? Hirsch makes what seems a radical proposal. He would have us take steps to improve the reading skills of all our students. (As an aside, he doesn't seem too troubled about deficiencies in math scores. But then, he is a former English professor!) Hirsch does not, however, rest content with just recommending this. He goes on to offer a proposal as to the measures schools might put in place to effect the desired improvements in reading ability. For this he is to be roundly commended. He proposes what to many of us would appear to be a really novel idea. It is that, to enable children to better read, we need first to impart to them knowledge - knowledge of a whole slew of facts. Then reading-skill improvement will follow as if of its own accord. On the face of it, this thesis appears not only very radical but also downright paradoxical.Read more ›
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