Thursday, May 11, 2006

"Teaching Facts to Kids"

These are the responses to my May 8 article, "E.D. Hirsch, Education Theorist, Says Kids Must be Taught Facts. His Views Rejected by Educrats." Thanks to all, please continue to provide us with your feedback


  1. good piece in the Sun today
    but you shouldn't pick up on Don's error in asserting that 4th grade scores are better. Educrats are better at cheating -- something that Sol, Diane Ravitch and I have been saying for some time. But we are New Yorkers, quick to engage in a good old fashioned street fight. Don is a gentleman coming out of a genteel school in the courtly South.

  2. This explains why a youngster I know received a well-earned 94 on his "Math A" Regents exam, but can't subtract 29 from 42 without a calculator.

  3. ED= Education Dysfunction

  4. I agree with the points made in this article and am horrified at the general state of knowledge posesses by a fair number of our Jay-Walking student H.S. graduates. Part of the problem obviously stems from the fact
    that our best and brightest have not gone into teaching the last few decades .......................and some of it because the salary levels at the entry levels are not competitve, although they become pretty good later on and especially in retirement

  5. I read it in today's Sun and loved it. But can you move one of the most immovable forces -- the education profession and union?

  6. Anonymous11:15 AM

    Excellent article today

  7. This is exactly on have been learning and I am very impressed...some of the clear, concise on-target statements in this piece sound like I'm dictating the facts and you are writing in your CIVIC style.

    Seriously -- now you get it!!! (My highest praise)

  8. A good and timely editorial. It is pretty clear, as you have pointed out, that the best and brightest of college graduates are not going into the teaching field. There are better options for many graduates who have ambition. Teachers are not respected by parents, as you said, nor supervisors nor their peers in other fields. In terms of pay, in Westchester the highest paid teachers receive $115,000-120,000 for ten months. This is with a masters plus 60 credits or a doctorate, which means it is the end of their career more or less. If the incentive level changed, you could reasonably expect more qualified college graduates to sign up for teacher's college.

  9. The following passage from the piece you distributed today called to mind a recent article I read in the Toronto Star. I copied it for you below. I always appreciate getting your thoughtful commentary in my inbox.

    The growth of the economy has provided many other opportunities and the emancipation of women means that they are no longer limited to careers as teachers or nurses. These are fortunate events to have taken place, but they do not work to improve, or even maintain, the quality of the teaching profession.

  10. I would not (necessarily) expect him to be one of your heroes, but I direct you to this week’s Village Voice for an article by Nat Hentoff on the importance of a public schools curriculum that includes instruction in the Constitution. Both authors seem to be pointing to an old American ideal: the necessity of framing a core set of knowledge and beliefs that we expect all citizens to understand and support. As the country becomes more diverse than at any time in a century, this may be the beginning of a groundswell…

  11. What can we do to change the tide at the Board of Dred? I am a proponent of the Core Knowledge philosophy. Unfortunately, Adminstrators, Teachers and Parents for the most part seem to follow blindly like cows en route to slaughter....

  12. I worry about kids and what they are learning--- or failing to learn.

    I hear they no longer teach stuff like Civics--- young people have no idea about the Constitution and our form of govt--- interesting that we require immigrants to know things--- that

    US citizens don't. Have a Brit friend who just became US citizen--- proud of it--- and she was quizzing ME--- about Congress, etc.... Had me on a few---- I wasn't sure WHAT

    amendment to the Constitution we were up to now. But at least can roughly describe

    Bill of Rights.... Something like 90% of Americans can't even list rights in First Amendment

    (most leave out petition and assembly)...

  13. Thank you

  14. It is a false dichotomy to say that to be educated one must learn facts not how to learn and vice versa. What use are knowing facts, if one can't learn from them and what use is learning how to learn, if one knows nothing?

  15. What do you expect from the current climate of "political correctness"? Teach a child a fact and the PC people will scream and yell. God help America!

  16. This truly is an eye opening piece of jouranlism. Perhaps being
    politically correct is now America's new McCarthyism?

  17. This article is right on target! I am appalled by the
    > lack of core knowledge in adults as well as children.
    > One example: About 10 years ago, one of my
    > subordinates was labelling a map with European country
    > names (the map had the boundaries, but no labels), and
    > she put "Italy" on India! And, I have encountered many
    > adults who have no concept of what the U.S. Civil War
    > was about!
    > Keep up the good work! One can only hope and pray that
    > shining a light on these issues will be a step toward
    > correcting these problems.

  18. Hirsch sounds like the kind of ideologue that gets in the way of learning the facts. I tilt toward the fact based education. But I recognize that this is in part a personality based tilt. From Copernicus we learn that observation trumps reason. This tilts me to the fact based approach. But we still need the theory to make sense out of so much facts that they become noise without organizing theory. Clearly learning how to learn is important. Clearly some facts have to be the basis of even learning how to learn. Clearly the best mix is a function of the individual child. At the extremes, those with fantastic memories are usually incompetent at best and those who know only theory are blowhards at best. But all that leaves a lot to be learned about how to educate. All sides of the education issue make pronouncements that remind me of old time religion. One observation is that when we double the percentage of students at any level of education, it is to be expected that average performance will fall. But that does not argue for keeping the old time religion or for adopting some new comforting theory

  19. The question below my response was typical of those from most of my
    correspondents to whom I forwarded your e-mail. My reply reflected a
    deep personal interest in the subject and a long-standing frustration
    with what I believe to be the lack of will within both the educational,
    and, until recently, the political establishments to deal with the
    subject as it ought to be addressed. There are few people currently
    writing on local affairs that have your experience and behind-the-scenes
    perspective of the politically possible in this city. I think a future
    column giving your thoughts and suggestions for improvements and
    implementation of reforms in this could be very helpful. (Of course in
    you have any future political aspirations this might prove unwise, since
    whatever you say is likely to offend someone.)

  20. Excellent article about Prof. Hirsch that highlights a key problems of
    education today---the lack of providing factual information which is truly
    tantalizing to children. Unfortunately educrats are bored with information
    and focus on fads masquerading as theories that cannot be proved or
    disproved except in the long term. Pity.

  21. Amen. I am forwarding this to as many of my correspondents as I can.

  22. There are myriad reasons for the decline of teaching in America, and I am sure if you had more space in your column you would have at least given them some mention.

    About teachers being underpaid, there I disagree. That is a myth propagated by teacher's unions. Take a look at this New York Post article republished on the Manhattan Institute website A (national) average salary of $44,600, over the course of nine months work, is not so bad when you consider that, were they to get paid at that rate over 12 months, it would be $59,466 per year.

    I think the myth is especially untrue in New York City where the average elementary school teacher's salary is $59,514 per year (nine months work). Working on the assumption of a two earner household, which has been the standard for more than 20 years now, that would mean (assuming the spouse had a salary that equaled or exceed the "paltry" teacher's wage) a household income of $120,000 per year or nearly three times the median household income in Queens. (a nice place to live) It's even substantially higher than Nassau's $72,030 (a very nice place to live)

    The actual problem is that a large number (I daresay the majority) of New York City teachers are not talented enough for the job. When you think about it statistically, it seems almost impossible for one city to be able to produce an adequate number of teachers. I'm sure you'll agree that a good teacher should be intelligent, dynamic, and genuinely devoted to his/her profession; you can't phone it in. Even if there was one person like this in every 100, New York would only have 80,000 teachers.

    The problem is compounded when you realize that many of those 80,000 wonderful, dynamic people are not teachers: for a variety of reasons. When you were in school teachers were (correct me if I'm wrong) largely female. Because of gender roles, teaching was among the few outlets available to women. Today a woman as smart as your third grade teacher could be a corporate lawyer or a ad executive, which is wonderful for her, but it leaves a vacuum in the schools. My education benefited largely from the Vietnam war. I had many baby-boomer male teachers who perhaps could have had more lucrative jobs but who became teachers to avoid the draft.

    Today there are many of those "1 out of a 100" type folks who are doing very altruistic work (less lucrative than being a teacher in many cases) such as working for community outreach non-profits, where they think their efforts will have more direct impact on society. These good spirited people are probably also put off by the prospect of being sucked into the City's giant education bureaucracy. I often think that all the Partnerships for Parks staff would make great teachers.... they're essentially just teaching the community about their parks. Of course I'm glad they're helping the City in some way, but 20 years ago they might found teaching as a preferred avenue.

    Reading tests and standards had to be invented and imposed after teachers could no longer be relied upon (as a whole) to do a good job of teaching their students, which would naturally include not only learning how to read but how to understand.

  23. Thanks for the info

  24. This is a great column about someone I've never heard of, but will looking
    > into. It addresses a lot of my concerns about the new "child centered"
    > learning programs. I tutored a couplem of shockingly undertaught
    > school children in Inwood over the years. It was a deciding factor in
    > moving. That's what I like about reading your column, now and then I get
    > entire education.

  25. Interesting articles!

  26. A distinction should be made between learing facts and comprehension.

  27. The noble experiment of providing a quality public school information to all is over. Today only the children of the affluent receive an education that prepares them for college. Their teachers, in private schools and wealthy suburbs, are superb. This makes it harder and harder to get into top tier colleges which continually increase their SAT cut-offs as they are inundated with quality applicants from private schools and elite public high schools.

    As an example both Duke and Wake Forest Universities, formerly Methodist and Baptist institutions, now have out-of-state Roman Catholics as the largest percent (25%+) of the undergraduate student body. The indigenous North Carolinians. largest Protestants, cannot compete.

    America is becoming a mirror image of Europe with academies only for the few without regard to basic quality education for the masses. Sad but true.

  28. That reading is more than recognizing words such as "girl, house, table, go" but requires understanding concepts as one delves into more advanced reading passages is something I learned from my professors at Columbia over forty years ago. I agree that lack of understanding concepts intrudes on reading ability beyond fourth grade.

  29. Your op-ed piece in the NY SUN today was right on target. I agree with your (and Hirsch's) anaysis of the reading tangle. You and I met briefly a couple of times at your seminars. I have some unique info on the reading debacle which is a real tangle. I am an engineer-turned-educator and look at education mantras with a critical eye and a scientific mindset. Your invoking the adage about "He who cant't . .. " is highly appropriate. There's some stuff on www.TLC.LI which you won't find anywhere else. Much of the "dyslexia" that is found among NYC children is acquired -- NOT innate. It is CAUSED by whole-word-whole-language teaching -- especially if it is given before phonics. See the Underachievement section of the website, both articles. It also explains the so-called "racial gap" sufferred by black kids as they seem to be more severely damaged than Caucasians by the whole-language teaching. We don't know WHY, but the data are very consistent both here and in North Carolina where our testing tool was devised. Our data lead to both prevention and remediation strategies. Our research background on the whole-word pedagogy perfidy goes back over 75 years. If any of your colleagues are interested have them contact me. Because there's a cure.

  30. (1) 4th grade tests are about comprehension--although nturally are written at the level of 4th grade text. mostly it's nonfiction, but includes fiction and poetry too. Like SATs and 8th grade reading tests it also includes vocabulry.

    (2) Teachers are indeed required to know subject matter.

    (3) But you are correct that in K-8 not much else besides reading (literacy) and math are taught in too many schools in response to all the testing. He and I agree on the importance of teaching about the real world--history, social studies, science, art. We disagree on whether there is a prescribed curriculum that suits us all, but not about the importance of delving deeply into the world -- knowledge about what, where, when and how.

    (4) Teachers are not paid enough, but above all they are not treasted respectfully, as professionals with some knowledge of their craft. We shouldn't pretend to be a science, but we should pretend to be a skilled craft that rests a lot of its skill on scientific knowledge.

  31. Thank you for the Teaching Facts to Kids article. I had not realized how far from those principles the current education methods had come. I will now look into the whole business of our current methods much more carefully

  32. Thank you for the Teaching Facts to Kids article. I had not realized how far from those principles the current education methods had come. I will now look into the whole business of our current methods much more carefully

  33. Thank you for the Teaching Facts to Kids article. I had not realized how far from those principles the current education methods had come. I will now look into the whole business of our current methods much more carefully

  34. This is the second time I have felt compelled to replt to one of your
    > more provocative scribblings.
    > In general, I appreciate your newsletter and the intent behind it. In
    > this case I have to express my strongest resentment.
    > The 'modern' view that teachers should teach children how to learn - to
    > engender a love of learning - and then let the kids go out and learn
    > forthemselves is, in my opinion, neither modern nor wrong.
    > Yes you can beat a few facts into their skullls. Two things happen.
    > First they learn to hate learning. Second, they soon forget the facts
    > you drummed into them.
    > My wife has been a grade 3 teacher for nearly 20 years. Without fail,
    > every time we sit down to eat in the food court at the local shopping
    > mall, a parent or university level kid walks up to us and asks if she
    > remembers them. She usually does. They then tell her that her teaching
    > taught them to love learning and as a result, has totally changed their
    > entire lives for the better.
    > Teaching a love for learning, teaches people to learn for themsleves,
    > to make decisions for themselves. Those who advocate teaching 'facts',
    > are invariably demanding that students cease to think for themslelves.
    > This is not just wrong, it is vitally wrong. It takes away an essential
    > part of very humanity of the child.
    > The world is cruel. Facts have a nasty tendency to change. Kids have to
    > learn these lessons at the earliest possible age, and learn to adjust.
    > Kids have to learn to form an opinion, learn how to change it as
    > necessary and how to stick by it when necessary as well. As a famous
    > American teacher once said. 'Be sure you are right, then go ahead.'
    > Give us the ability to make and defend moral judement. It is an
    > essential part of our very humanity. Teach us to figure things out for
    > ourselves. We can do it! We can all of us do it! Dont confuse us with
    > facts! And don't bully us with your knowledge of them.

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