From a New York Times piece today:
Recently, at Public School 253 in Brooklyn, Myra Wenger applied her new curriculum in a lesson on ancient Athens, asking her second graders why the city adopted Athena, not Poseidon, in naming itself. A pupil, Daniel Gornak, 8, answered, “Because Athena gave more uses than Poseidon did, and more healthy things for Athenians,” and Ms. Wenger lauded his methods in consulting his marble notebook for the facts.
“They love it,” Ms. Wenger said of her lesson plans. “They’re very engaged, more than last year.”
In another room, a group of first graders sat on a mat, eagerly raising their hands to explain similarities between farming in ancient Mesopotamia and ancient Egypt.
“They needed water,” one student, Rabiha Islam, 6, said.
“And, and, and,” she continued, searching for another answer, “they didn’t have, so they made canals.”
The school chose one of the country’s most popular Common Core curriculums, called Core Knowledge. It is based on the ideas of E. D. Hirsch Jr., whose 1987 book, “Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know,” argued that mastery of a common set of facts was critical to learning.
Beyond the testing difficulties, one of the criticisms of the Common Core, in New York and elsewhere, is that it can be too demanding for young grades. Diane Ravitch, an educational historian, has said that very little of what is taught to first graders about ancient civilizations will stick with them; Mr. Hirsch and other defenders of the Common Core say children in early grades need lessons in history, civics, science and literature to build vocabularies and thrive.
This captures the question that I get asked more often than any other during discussion around change: Where is the balance when it comes to what every child needs to know now and making sure kids become deep learners in the context of having access to abundant information, knowledge, tools, and teachers? And are we really saying that “what every American needs to know” has to be learned in school? At the same time as everyone else? If you asked a random selection of 100 adults who Poseidon and Athena were, how many could answer? 10? 20? And are those who can’t failures? And by the way, who decides what facts are worthy of “learning?”
Seems easy enough to test this hypothesis. Why don’t we do a large scale assessment on 30-year olds to see how many of them are Common Core or culturally literate and them correlate that to their “success” in life. (Defining success is a long conversation in an of itself.) My guess would be that “success” is much more based on dispositions than it is on content knowledge and the ability to have a conversation about Mesopotamia.