Review: The schools we need by E.D. Hirsch, JR.

“There exists an inverse relationship between educational progressivism and social progressivism.”  What does this actually  mean?  Well, Hirsch argues that educational conservatism is the only way out for deprived children.

Students from lower socio-economic backgrounds often lack the ‘intellectual capital’ (knowledge) that their advantaged peers gain from generic household conversations.  If disadvantaged students lack this fundamental knowledge base, then over time, this gap becomes ‘insuperable’ after a few years of education.  This is because the basic premise of knowledge acquisition is that it is cumulative; knowledge builds upon knowledge.

Hirsch argues that the over-reliance on progressive approaches, the consistent ‘child centred’ approach, the belief that students should learn at their own pace, the anti-test rhetoric and the need for individual differentiation over the past century has led to some of the worst lowering of educational standards ever seen.

Instead, Hirsch argues we must create a list of ‘grade-level descriptors’ which outline the minimum requirements every student should learn at the end of each year.   This will increase accountability and ensure that no child is left behind as adequate interventions can help close any gaps. At the heart of it, Hirsch believes that everyone can and should succeed yet we need to change!

Well what can we do then?

  • List of minimum Grade Level descriptors that students must know at the end of the year to prepare them for the following year.
  • Move away from an excuse culture and ’child centred learning.’ “Individual attention means individual neglect for the majority of students.”
  • Automate basic knowledge and processes to access higher level thinking.
  • Identify gaps in students’ knowledge and basic practices and use interventions to close these gaps. If it’s left too late, it’s a much harder and wider gap to close!

An insightful book and one that is definitely worth reading if you want to find out more:


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