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E.D. Hirsch  

Founder of the Core Knowledge Foundation

Hirsch is the founder and chairman of the Core Knowledge Foundation and professor emeritus of education and humanities at the University of Virginia. He is the author of several acclaimed books on education issues including the best-seller Cultural Literacy. With his subsequent books The Schools We Need and Why We Dont Have Them, The Knowledge Deficit, and The Making of Americans, Dr. Hirsch solidified his reputation as one of the most influential education reformers of our time.

A highly regarded English professor and literary critic earlier in his career, Dr. Hirsch describes being shocked into education reform while doing research on written composition. Conducting research at a pair of colleges in Virginia, he discovered that while the relative readability of a text was an important factor in determining a students ability to comprehend a passage, an even more important factor was the students background knowledge.

African-American students at a Richmond community college could read just as well as University of Virginia students when the topic was roommates or car traffic, but they could not read passages about Lees surrender to Grant, Dr. Hirsch recalled. They had not been taught the various things that they needed to know to understand ordinary texts addressed to a general audience. The results were shocking. What had the schools been doing? I decided to devote myself to helping right the wrong that is being done to such students, he said.

Electrified by the insight gleaned from this research, Dr. Hirsch developed his groundbreaking concept of cultural literacythe idea that reading comprehension requires not just formal decoding skills but also wide-ranging background knowledge. In 1986, he founded the Core Knowledge Foundation, and a year later, published Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs To Know. A surprise publishing phenomenon, the book remained at the top of the New York Times best-seller list for more than six months.

For nearly three decades, in books, articles and lectures, Dr. Hirsch has passionately argued that schools should teach a highly specific curriculum that would allow children to understand things writers and speakers take for granted, and to fully participate in democratic life. We will achieve a just and prosperous society only when our schools ensure that everyone commands enough shared knowledge to communicate effectively with everyone else, Dr. Hirsch concludes.

Read Sol Stern's "E. D. Hirsch's Curriculum for Democracy: A content-rich pedagogy makes better citizens and smarter kids", City Journal, Autumn 2009, Vol. 19, No. 4.


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