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113 of 116 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars In response to review of 7/26/00, et.al.
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...
Published on August 23, 2000

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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars I wish there was a conclusion, instead of leaving me with questions.
Ug, I really tried to read this book thoroughly, but there was just too much unnecessary language. Maybe others felt differently, but I really felt the words sometimes detracted from the point. The whole wrapping of the book is intellectual capital, everyone needs it before entering the real world- but the method of attaining it is the question. I see a lot of other...
Published on December 30, 2011 by Leah MacVie


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113 of 116 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars In response to review of 7/26/00, et.al., August 23, 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: The Schools We Need: And Why We Don't Have Them (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. The morass of American education - and the skeptical response of teachers to research claims - is better understood when one reads that less than 1/3 of the 115,000 reading studies conducted over the past 30+ years met standards that rendered them useful to the Panel. Presumably, many were designed by educators with inadequate training in scientific standards for research. (Such a disconnect between the education and science communities - further illustrated in the current math wars - is not helping the teaching profession with its respect issue.)
Speaking only as a parent who felt charged to learn as much as possible so as make better decisions for my children, it seems to me that the research emerging from cognitive psych and neurology spells trouble for the holistic ideologies that undergird `progressive' education. Empirical support for explicit and systematic instruction of a pre-set hierarchy of skills (the Hirsch camp) appears to be on the grow. At the same time, neuroscience is helping us understand that the processes of learning to read, write and compute are not `natural' to the brain - that the Romantic ideals of naturalism and developmentalism, which undergird the `progressive' tradition with which Gardner is generally aligned, have turned out to be a poor fit with the neurological requisites for certain learning.
I find Mr.Gardner to be a good read; teachers in my acquaintance who have attended his programs feel they've been to Sinai. But, my experience of three children has validated for my purposes the positions of Mr. Hirsch: that reading / writing fluency, automaticity of basic math operations and a framework of core knowledge which is rich in content needs to be education's first order of business. If the most efficient instructional methods for achieving those goals are used, curriculum time should remain for honing thinking skills through deeper exploration of specific topics. But when schools don't make core knowledge and basic skills a priority - and most have not - academic success is reserved to those children with parents who do. In my experience of several public and private schools, that fact explains why the gap between America's `advantaged' and `disadvantaged' widens with each year of schooling. I am mystified when Hirsch is charged with elitism; what is elitist about urging methods which empirical evidence suggests is most likely to close that gap?
I think the work of both men and the schools of thought they ably represent will ultimately merge into a unified model in which the consumers of American education can have justified confidence. The success of that merger will depend upon the degree to which critical decisions of sequence and relative weight are informed by well-designed research. Unfortunately, the longer education remains a subject of bitter political partisanship, the longer it will take for the unbiased review of empirical evidence upon which such a merger depends.
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47 of 50 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Higher Ed is not immune., March 16, 1998
By 
Larry Larason (Gallup, New Mexico) - See all my reviews
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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61 of 67 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Emperor Has No Clothes, April 26, 2001
This review is from: The Schools We Need: And Why We Don't Have Them (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. They can do no more than parrot such unfounded and nonsensical phrases such as "Teach the child, not the subject," "Drill and kill," "Facts are inferior to understanding," and "Learning to learn." I was also extremely glad to see someone counter the ridiculous claims made by a previous teacher of mine that all research ever done claims this or that progressive theory is superior. I have sat in disbelief on many occasions as my former teacher made claims that could very easily be refuted. Hirsch makes ample note of this as well as explains the odd separation between professors of education and professors of various disciplines on college campuses. Though I believe that enrolled in and passed UF's Foundations of Education course (with an A), I entered into reading The Schools We Need not knowing the reason for much of this strange separation. It was comforting to learn of its revealing origins as well as to gain a more accurate history of American education in the 20th century. As is probably expected, I found The Schools We Need to be highly effective in promoting strong, research backed teaching methods as well as a solid critique of the teaching of progressivist schools of education. However, there are areas in which Hirsch could do a better job in securing his arguments. For one, he does not make clear exactly who is involved in the international studies that compare American test scores with those from other countries. While I have no doubt that foreign countries can be equally as diverse as ours, I wonder if the testing is as "across-the-board" as it is in America. Also, Hirsch's critique of a "market place of schools" in which parents choose a school is based not on empirical research (as is most of his book), but on his leftist opinions about the ability of individuals to choose what is best for them (or their children). Because of his political beliefs, Hirsch continually fails to see that there is no one "right" set of knowledge that everyone "should" learn. It is my belief that each family (or individual, depending on age) must be empowered to make that decision.
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35 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars They've Spent Years Telling Me What My Learning Style Is...., March 16, 2003
This review is from: The Schools We Need: And Why We Don't Have Them (Paperback)
... When the hell are they going to teach me something?!
Courtesy of the graduate of an affluent public school district, where every Thursday afternoon for a semester the Junior class had a Unit on Self-Esteem.
They did not, however, learn to write a five-page paper, or to identify theme and point-of-view in fictions, or the historic origins of the democratic ideals of America's founders, or the twelve points Woodrow Wilson promoted at the end of the First World War (there was more than one???), or the difference between compound and simple interest paid on savings.
Hirsch offends so often because what he says is irrefutable: one must have language and ideas to use as comparisons and contrasts to all texts, cultural and written, or one cannot achieve higher level reasoning skills. This notion is so threatening to those without higher reasoning skills that they call names -- elitist, classist, mono-culturalist. But the fact is that ignoring the need for a common core of information about which people within a culture (or say, even at a given location at a specific moment in time) can discourse, we create an artificial elite that "represents them because they cannot represent themselves" -- vanguardist intellectuals who become, themselves, a privileged overclass who make their living protecting others from gaining the privilege and mastery they desire.
You go, E.D.!
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Sir Francis Bacon of Our Day, June 29, 2000
This review is from: The Schools We Need: And Why We Don't Have Them (Paperback)
At the turn of the 17th century in England, most of the important educational and scientific work was being done outside of the universities. Bound up as they were by the Aristotlian philosopies, English universities were incapable of advancing knowledge. It took Sir Francis Bacon and his advocacy of empiricism to shake Aristotle out of the universities. Without Bacon, there would have been no Newton, no Faraday, no Boyle, and Harvey might never have published his findings.
Today, our schools are dominated by Rousseau, by a seductive, romantic philosophy that lets everyone feel good about themselves and shifts any blame for their failings to society. Hirsch documents how the dominance of this single, irrational ideology in all of its mutations has corroded the educational process. He argues that schools should be held accountable for their performance, and that we should be using what has been proven to work to educate and evaluate students. In short, a new empiricism for educational methods as well as for scholarship is needed.
Hirsch argues that reform of the educational system, as in Bacon's day, will have to come from outside, because educators, wedded as they are to Romanticism, will never change unless forced to do so.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A rebuttal to post-modern educational theory, June 8, 2005
By 
Twice-lived (Lyons, CO United States) - See all my reviews
As I read this book I reflected on how current formalistic educational theory parallels post-modernism in literature and visual art. In art and literature, the importance of formalism grew until content became nothing more than an mannequin for displaying the artist's cleverness, giving us conceptual art and critically impeccable novels that were totally devoid of plot or ideas. This parallels the conflict between "critical thinking" against "cultural capital." Cultural capital says that you have to know what the human experience talking about before you can join in the conversation. Critical thinking says that this conversation is no more than a laboratory for testing various forms of analysis.

Literary post-modernism ran out of steam in the late 70s and conceptual art followed shortly thereafter.

If critical thinking works, then schools would be producing students who are capable of deep analysis but no ideas or data to apply it too. In truth, data is introduced and assimilited in the classroom, but its presentation is usually too arbitrary to make a lasting impression. It's treated as discrete data, the students perceive its lack of importance, they forget it, and the next time you try to present it, they say, "Why are you wasting my time with this crap when I could be downloading ring tones for my cell phone?"

Conversely, the progressive school complains that cultural capital would fill the little minds with data but no faculties for analysis of the information. In truth, this misconstrues Hirsch's thesis, because he's really saying that students need to learn how the human experience encompasses a tradition of critical thinking, and that students will see a more urgent need for critical thinking when the information they use is important and presented in a comprehensive and coherent manner.

My first criticism of this book are that justifications for many of the author's supporting observations are thin. They should be corroborated more thoroughly or more closely correlated to the sources he's already used. In addition, the history of progressive trends in American education since 1913 is somewhat oversimplified. While the undercurrent of 19th century romanticism he describes was always present, the objectives and rationales of progressive movements evolved with the social, political, and economic context. For a more concise examination of the history of progressive education, read Diane Ravitch's Left Back: A Century of Battles Over School Reform.
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31 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars In time for the next generation?, March 9, 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: The Schools We Need: And Why We Don't Have Them (Paperback)
I have alternately blessed and cursed Hirsch for The Schools We Need. A profoundly important work - but too late for my children!
A year ago, I retired from the practice of law to provide full time academic support to my children. Only then did I discover that my 5th, 7th and 9th graders, all of whom attend the 'best' private school in our area, could not perform any of the basic algorithms with consistent accuracy or identify the parts of speech. While parents bear primary responsibility for such deficits, Hirsch provided the historical context and data with which to evaluate causal factors rooted in 'progressive' education methods. Most importantly, he introduced us to the body of learning research from the domains of cognitive psychology and neuroscience, where we at last encountered experts whose prognostications mirrored our experiences. This research was invaluable in helping us to choose effective extra-curricular remediation. But, we immediately began to search for a school that is based on the Hirsch model - and couldn't find one. We live in a state which has legislated wholesale progressive reforms, and our 'independent' schools have largely followed suit. We encounter the same reform patter at every school tour, and we're resigned to ongoing Kumon Math and other supplemental tutoring. I can only hope that Hirsch's positions will germinate in time to make 'the schools we need' readily available to my grandchildren.
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36 of 42 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Readers of Schools should also read Howard Gardner's latest, May 26, 1999
Readers of this excellent book should also read The Disciplined Mind, the latest book by Howard Gardner, because Gardner describes his book in the introduction as a "sustained dialectic -- read disagreement -- with E. D. Hirsch ...," describing 'core knowledge' as "an idle pursuit ... superficial and ... anti-intellectual" and later as "a course of study that blitzes, in thirty-five breathless weeks, from Plato to NATO or from Cleopatra to Clinton." Thus co-starring Hirsch as his most formidable adversary, the book is a sample both of how Gardner has habitually misrepresented Hirsch's program in order to attack him, but more notably shows the extent to which Gardner has come to agree with Hirsch. Amazon.com's features showing what other books in the same field customers buy reveals how all too often we read only the books on our side of an issue. In this case readers of Schools and any other of Hirsch's works should read his most illustrious adversary as well. It is revealing and perhaps encouraging.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Finally some common-sense educational theory!!, July 8, 1998
By 
Margaret (Silicon Valley) - See all my reviews
This book is a must-read for both educators and parents. For anyone like myself who has no formal background in education, this book is very enlightening and totally readable. Hirsch finally does us poor ignoramuses the favor of explaining all the lofty terms teachers like to throw around, and you may be pretty surprised to find out of simplistic (and silly) some of their ideas are. If you've been wondering why our children no longer learn phonics, don't know their multiplication tables and can't tell you what century Abe Lincoln was president, you'll understand by the end of this book.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Some Things Need To Be Said More Than Once!, December 22, 2007
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This review is from: The Schools We Need: And Why We Don't Have Them (Paperback)
A long time ago, a well known theorist of education - John Dewey - decried certain "dualisms" in education. Schools, in other words, should not put all of their educational eggs in one basket by focusing either SOLELY on teaching factual recall or SOLELY on teaching students how to think. Schools should do both and avoid the idea that the two can be seperated. Thinking, in Dewey's mind, was dependent on factual knowledge and factual knowledge was useless without a mind trained to think about it.

Hirsch's book is written amongst a steady tide of educational thought that has forgotten this most basic insight. Most educators today believe the primary goal of education to be promotion of critical thinking and creative expression at the expense of fact-b ased instruction, which is often decried as 'mindless repitition of facts.' (In my education classes, I often hear it referred to as the 'three R's' - read, remember, regurgitate.')

In this sense, the thesis of Hirsch's book - that critical thinking and creative expression MUST be accompanied by firm, factual understanding - is a very Deweyan idea. And Hirsch makes a good case, both philosophically and scientifically.

The first half of the book is the more philosophical half. First, Hirsch traces the ideological roots of the 'learning as a social, constructivist enterprise' theory. Owing to the work of a handful of theorists in and around the 1930's, the 'learn from the bottom up' approach (facts first, then higher-order reflection) became replaced by a "bottom down" approach that sees learning as more holistic and constructivistic.

Next, Hirsch shows that by most any measure, these ideas have failed - ever since their inception in the '30's - to produce any improvement in the United State's educational situation. More than that, while these 'reforms' flounder in the public schools, those schools that still hold to a fact-based rigorous educational model - private schools and universities - continue to thrive. So, is it any wonder that we might find reason to question whether these reforms have done more harm than good?

But, as Hirsch points out next, not only are these ideas not questioned within the education establishment, they are simply treated as common sense - even in the light of their repeated failure to deliver on their promises.

AS a masters student in Special Education and a first year teacher, this was a pertinent section for me. I can see the dominance of the constructivist model not only in the school where I teach, but permeating every inch of the Graduate School which I attend. We are taught EXCLUSIVELY in the constructivist approach and the more fact-based approach only comes up when we talk about how things used to be (ah...those draconians!).

Finally, we get to the meat of Hirsch's case. The last third of the book presents the data. While most of the alleged data supporting the constructivist approach boils down to philosophy dressed in the language of science, the data supporting the other, more fact-based approach, consists of numerous studies that independently come to the same conclusion - that fact-based, large-group, disciplined instruction, rather than the more free-form, constructivist, small group approach, wins the day more often than not.

Of course, as I have not done any exhaustive reasearch on this subject, I cannot say that there is NO research to support a constructivist approach. But I can attest that many articles in support of constructivism are thinly veiled philosophizing under the guise of sceintific research, the quality of which would be laughed at in any journal with scholarly standards. (Unfortunately, education journals don't seem to have very high publishing standards.)

My only complaint about this book - and it is a big one - is that Hirsch really should have focused more on the scientific case against a wholly constructivist approach.It may be true that the science supports a more fact-based approach, but, if so, he should rebut it more with science than his own philosophy. Otherwise, he is only doing what he alleges others of doing - being a partisan to philosophy rather than data. If the data is as staggering as he suggests, he shold show it rather than relegate it to the last third of his book.

Be that as it may, this book is sorely needed in an educational world that has been trying the same thing over and over (under new names every few years) only to find that it doesn't work. Perhaps we should take a cue from the schools that are working - private schools, universities, and the pulbic schools of other countries. Of course, if we did that, we might have to admit that Hirsch, and Dewey, are right; education is not worth much without factual rigor.
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The Schools We Need: And Why We Don't Have Them
The Schools We Need: And Why We Don't Have Them by E. D. Hirsch Jr. (Paperback - August 17, 1999)
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