Hirsch and Today's Curricula

Hirsch goes so far as to propose that schools should have a split curriculum. He calls the half of which is aimed at imparting the facts on his literacy list the "extensive curriculum," and the half which is aimed at imparting skills and abstract schemata the "intensive curriculum."

Of course, when one gives two goals to an already overloaded system, it may well turn out that only one of them will be attended to. Hirsch makes it clear that the halves of the curriculum are not meant to be equal for him. The so-called "extensive curriculum" is really what is important to him.

Hirsch is correct to point out that facts are quite important in how people think. But he only half understands their role in how we think and communicate. He says that they are to give us knowledge that we could never figure out on our own:

"Critical thinking and basic skills, two areas of current focus in education, do not enable children to create out of their own imaginations the essential names and concepts that have arisen by historical accident. The Rio Grande, the Mason-Dixon line, "The Night Before Christmas," and "Star Wars" are not products of basic skills or critical thought. Many items of literate culture are arbitrary, but that does not make them dispensable. Facts are essential components of the basic skills that a child entering our culture must have."

What do these catch phrases and code words mean in the absence of the generalizations they serve to illustrate? To his credit, Hirsch recognizes the inherent emptiness of such bits and pieces. "The crucial knowledge held by literate people is, as I have pointed out, telegraphic, vague, and limited in extent." Nevertheless, Hirsch believes such empty knowledge is worth forcing on our children. This desire shows that Hirsch fails to understand how students must be able to relate facts to abstract schemata if they are to be able to use them in everyday life.

Next Story Children and Schemas

Outline Where am I in the content of the book?

What Is Next

What Led To This?

What Should Be Avoided?

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