A brick hurled at the windows of the K-12 educational establishment for serving up content-lite curricula that leave US elementary and secondary schools among the worst in the developed world. Hirsch, whose Cultural Literacy helped launch the culture wars, traces the origins of ""Thoughtworld"" (the lock-step ideology pervading elementary education) to three elements--American exceptionalism, Romanticism, and professional separatism--which when combined culminated in an anti-fact, supposedly child-centered ideology first propagated by Columbia University's Teachers College in the 1920s. With the best intentions, educators, pointing to today's information explosion, have forsaken rigorous, subject-based instruction for buzzwords he claims are unproven in practice, such as ""critical thinking skills,"" ""project-oriented,"" ""hands-on,"" ""developmentally appropriate,"" ""multiple intelligences,"" and the like. Despite his best efforts, Hirsch cannot easily dismiss the complaint that many of America's educational ills spring from a society disrupted by clashing ethnic groups and crumbling families. He is on safer ground in arguing that, because of these social problems, a demanding curriculum is needed to mitigate the effects of class on America's poorest children in their crucial formative years. Hirsch calls for national educational standards. Critics might argue that critical thinking skills serve as the only constant in periods when the conception of cultural literacy repeatedly changes. But without specific content-based objectives, Hirsch observes, children are likely to get little of substance--a dire outcome for all, but especially for disadvantaged children, who transfer in and out of schools the most. He is also likely to vex educational reformers in pointing out that bolstering student self-esteem does not raise achievement if praise comes without work. Hirsch sometimes sounds like Dickens's Thomas Gradgrind, harping on ""facts."" Still, an on-target indictment of an educational system that refuses to recognize the madness in its teaching methods.
Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1996
Page Count: 368
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996
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