“That children from poor and illiterate homes tend to remain poor and illiterate is an unacceptable failure of our schools, one which has occurred not because our teachers are inept but chiefly because they are compelled to teach a fragmented curriculum based on faulty educational theories. Some say that our schools by themselves are powerless to change the cycle of poverty and illiteracy. I do not agree. They can break the cycle, but only if they themselves break fundamentally with some of the theories and practices that education professors and school administrators have followed over the past fifty years.” E.D. Hirsch, Jr. Cultural Literacy (1988)
In the late 1980’s E.D. Hirsch Jr’s poignant observations about the general decline of “cultural literacy” became part of an ongoing debate about the quality, methods and purposes of schools. Hirsch’s controversial book on the subject underscored the fact that generations of contending educational reformers have either looked backward to sounder practices from “the good old days” or forward to what many believed to be liberation from the “dead hand of tradition.”
Most of us who have spent time in the education business, have to acknowledge that so-called “new discoveries” by “best practitioners” in education have beaten back the defenders of form and content in the traditional classroom. For some time, almost every purveyor of one form of “social justice” after another have found willing allies among progressive school teachers. Today, the fragmented curriculum, referred to by Hirsch in the nineteen eighties, remains a collection of disconnected subjects and technocratic skill sets. Unfortunately, people tend to applaud a familiar tune and a persistent culture of approval among unquestioning stakeholders has been supporting educational practices whose value has long since passed. If Canadians are to have any chance of reestablishing schools as serious centers of teaching and learning parents and citizens must first endeavor to understand how schools came to be the way they are.