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The Schools We Need: And Why We Don't Have Them Paperback – August 17, 1999

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Editorial Reviews Review

Everyone wonders why American schools have gone bad. E.D. Hirsch, author of Cultural Literacy, offers a compelling explanation. Schools do a lousy job of transmitting "core knowledge" to their students, he says. To improve, they must abandon all of their feel-good theories about "critical thinking" and work harder to endow kids with intellectual capital at an early age. It may sound like common sense, but this important book shows why so many educators appear to have lost theirs. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Bestselling author Hirsch (Cultural Literacy) argues that American education, kindergarten through high school, has been undermined by a deep contempt for factual knowledge and an addiction to fads such as "project-oriented" instruction, "relevant" topics, "child-centered" activities and building students' self-esteem. In a damning, highly provocative, full-scale assault on today's educational establishment, this University of Virginia English professor calls for a return to a so-called traditional approach emphasizing drill, verbal practice, memorization and interactive classroom instruction. Hirsch, who advocates a grade-by-grade core curriculum, buttresses his pragmatic tack with cognitive-psychology research and international comparative studies of classroom practice. An enjoyable 30-page glossary demystifies educators' slogans, pet phrases and jargon. A rigorous polemic.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor; 1st Anchor Books ed edition (August 17, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385495242
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385495240
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.7 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #186,099 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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117 of 121 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 23, 2000
Format: Paperback
I don't like to see Hirsch's work obscured by simplistic charges that he urges schools to abandon the teaching of critical thinking skills. He simply presents evidence for the Jeffersonian view that critical thinking ability is dependent upon factual knowledge, that a school which prioritizes critical thinking so as to neglect the requisites for acquiring knowledge (reading fluency, a strong vocabulary, communication skills, etc.) will fail all the way around. Having had children in that scenario, I affirm Hirsch's position.
Those with a burning desire to hold well-informed opinions on education reform should know Gardner's work. They should also avoid the pitfall of allowing judgments on education to be informed solely by members of the education community; the science community has important contributions to make via research methodologies and the knowledge emerging from the Decade of the Brain.
The report of the National Reading Panel - and the grounds upon which some educators have discounted it - is instructive. The Panel felt charged by Congress to apply the standards of scientific evidence - methodological rigor, reliability, validity, replicability, applicability - to its review of the existing research on reading instruction. By that standard, only quantitative research was deemed valid in answering cause-and-effect questions as to the efficacy of various elements of reading instruction. That meant that the qualitative research often used to establish efficacy for `pure Whole Language' methods was found inadequate to that purpose. The Whole Language faithful saw these scientific standards as a mere reflection of `philosophical orientation' and bias on the part of the Panel's majority and attacked the relevancy of the Report.
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52 of 55 people found the following review helpful By Larry Larason on March 16, 1998
Format: Hardcover
I, too, speak from long experience in k-12 education, although most of it belongs to my parents and grandparents. After 10 years teaching boring math to 8th graders - Hirsch's indictment of "spiraling," reteaching the same stuff every year, is nowhere more evident than in K-8 math classes - I moved on to teaching undergraduates. Not only is it true that they are increasingly unprepared to do college level coursework, but the educationists are trying to foist the same destructive practices on college faculty that have ruined K-12 education and that Hirsch describes so clearly in this book.
Regional accreditation groups have forced "authentic" assessment (as opposed to grades) into all coursework and programs. We are urged to teach processes rather than facts - students practice the scientific method without learning taxonomy in biology courses, writing without studying history, literature, or science - and traditional courses are replaced by "culturally appropriate studies."
Hirsch and his colleagues at exclusive institutions probably are unaware of the dangers; I doubt that Harvard or Duke deans talk about teaching "critical thinking skills" with their faculties. Since applications at these school exceed acceptances, they will probably resist pressures to change - at least for some time.
However, go into the middle grade public colleges, or especially into community colleges, and it's all there in force - endless agonizing over improving teaching strategies, watering down course content, improving student services,... These schools are desperate to maintain and/or increase enrollments, and to appease parents' and state legislatures' attacks. They will do almost anything to recruit and retain students, even if it means giving out meaningless degrees. I'd like to require all faculty members and administrators at the college where I teach to read this book; sadly, a lot of them probably lack the skills to do so.
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63 of 69 people found the following review helpful By Anthony V. Esposito on April 26, 2001
Format: Paperback
I found The Schools We Need by E.D. Hirsch, Jr. to be a much-needed oasis of common sense and academically rigorous prose in a seemingly endless desert of single-perspective educational fluff. From the first few pages, one thing became absolutely clear: I am not alone in questioning some of the major premises that undergird current educational theory. By the end of the first chapter, a second notion became equally clear: This book will never see the light of day as assigned reading in any of UF's teacher training classes. I am sure that some would be surprised to find myself, an uncompromising libertarian, agreeing so passionately with a self-avowed liberal's liberal like Hirsch. While I certainly disagree with Hirsch's final prescription for solving America's educational crisis as well as his leftist understanding of true equality, we both agree that something is amiss in America's colleges of education. I was glad to see Hirsch dedicate the last thirty pages of his book to the educational terms and phrases that promulgate colleges of education (including UF's). These phrases (many of which have been simply renamed and then reissued) have dominated the discourse in every one of my education classes. The reoccurrence of these pieces of shallow rhetoric have caused me to question the very intellectual and moral integrity of the teachers that "teach" them to preservice students. This indoctrination of phraseology (as codified in such required text as Methods that Matter) is ironic in that the very people who stress critical thinking are actually those that seem to be incapable of thinking critically.Read more ›
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