In a new book, Why Knowledge Matters, Hirsch plays another variation on his original theme, offering new insights on what should be evident to educators, but unfortunately is not. In it, he offers new evidence—from neuroscience and education research—that all children need a curriculum that teaches them a shared fund of knowledge, and that the failure to do this hampers educational success and equal opportunity, the very things progressivism touts.
Hirsch points out that education reformers almost always misdiagnose educational problems. One of their common scapegoats for impeding student learning, for example, is teacher quality. Hirsch acknowledges that teacher quality is a serious problem in the nation’s schools, but he points out that even good teachers will be stymied by the lack of a coherent curriculum.
Hirsch recommends that schools move away from the “child-centered” focus they have been pursuing since the reforms of John Dewey in the 1920s, reforms that now almost completely dominate teacher preparation and education reform rhetoric. Rather than a focus on “child-centeredness,” he says, schools should focus on “community-centeredness,” and this can be done only with a substantive curriculum.
Hirsch never mentions classical education, but his proposal to move away from emphasizing knowledge-neutral and out-of-context “thinking skills” and to move back to an emphasis on passing on a culture is at the heart of the classical education project.
This is the purpose of the Classical Core Curriculum, developed at Highlands Latin School in Louisville, Kentucky: to provide classical Christian schools with a substantive, coherent, specific course of studies, the purpose of which is to pass on the culture of the Christian West.
Rather than innovation and experimentation, schools need a solid program that provides their teachers and students with a curriculum that is well thought out and grounded in traditional content that has passed the test of time.