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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

“The More You Know The More You Are Able to Learn”

Yesterday brought the time change and nice weather to our neck of the woods and so the boys were in an out of the house and playing an endless variety of outdoor games seemingly forever. They came in exhausted, cranky, difficult. At bedtime, it was my turn to read to our younger son and I foraged around until he remembered that he and Marina had bought a book that afternoon and he wanted me to read that. I took E.D.Hirsch’s “What every Second Grader Should know” from out of the bag, and opened it up. The TOC directed me to Tall Tales and Rafi — who knows his geography — laughed and laughed at stories of how Paul Bunyan and his ox reshaped America. And this morning’s paper brought this article, Dr. Hirsch seems to be everywhere.

You all must know Dr. Hirsch and his “Core Knowledge” plan. His point is that there is a certain basic cluster of content students need and that we fail students by focusing on reading itself, not what is read. He was at one time also controversial in that he was seen as an old fashioned Cultural War figure trying to steer us back to Western Civ in its most restrictive sense. A glance at Core Knowledge as it exists today will show that that is not the case. The Times article describes a study in NYC public schools in which some used the Hirsch method and some the “Balanced Reading” system developed by Teachers College. As the article explains, “The study found that second graders who were taught to read using the Core Knowledge program scored significantly higher on reading comprehension tests than did those in the comparison schools. ”

Dr. Caulkins of TC objects to the nature of the study. I’m happy to let those who are skilled at parsing educational studies fight that out. But there is something appealing in the central Core Knowledge insight: “the more you know, the more you are able to learn.” And if we add this study to the recent one about poverty and education, we are reminded of the ladder of knowledge public school is meant to offer. I look forward to exploring further with Rafi and thinking about what kinds of Core Knowledge he and other young readers need.