Book Review: The Knowledge Deficit by E.D. Hirsch, Jr.

Whew! This one was a bit of a slog, but worth reading. The Knowledge Deficit by E.D. Hirsch, Jr. The author makes the case that Americans are terribly lacking in general knowledge that ought to help us be literate citizens, and help define our common culture. I admire his idealism and zeal for public school reform, although in my opinion, that is a losing battle from the start. Brain science and education are not my specialties, but he has a convincing argument for how to teach reading comprehension. In a nutshell, he says public school students spend way too much time learning reading “strategies” and way too little time reading actual content. They stay at a low level of literacy, because reading comprehension depends on background knowledge. Authors assume the general public has some familiarity with many topics. So, if someone reads an article about baseball, he needs to know how the game is played, and maybe what the World Series is, or he will have a hard time comprehending the article, even if he is a “good” reader.

Hirsch would like to see more time spent reading (history, arts, literature, science) in the classroom so that everyone has a “common core” of knowledge. Not to be confused with the most recent Common Core! He also delves into the lack of any coherent, continual curriculum for the public schools, and the disservice it does to students, especially those from lower social classes.

As a homeschooler, about half the content of this book was not particularly relevant (other than reaffirming my decision to keep our kids out of public school at this point). It does help pinpoint why the system is so broken. And I found the reading section useful, and thought-provoking. It makes me more inclined to go very broad (rather than deep) with our kids, at least while they are young.

My Rating for The Knowledge Deficit: Check it out of the library and read it. If you are an educator, buy it and re-read it. 🙂

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