Hirsch was not originally an ed research, he started as a chemist, but fell into the field after looking at why some college students have an easier time learning than others. The answer he found was pretty fundamental: the students who had more knowledge found it easier to acquire new knowledge than students with less knowledge.
[ City Journal. "E. D. Hirsch’s Curriculum for Democracy" ] In trying to figure out how to close this “literacy gap,” Hirsch conducted an experiment on reading comprehension, using two groups of college students. Members of the first group possessed broad background knowledge in subjects like history, geography, civics, the arts, and basic science; members of the second, often from disadvantaged homes, lacked such knowledge. The knowledgeable students, it turned out, could far more easily comprehend and analyze difficult college-level texts (both fiction and nonfiction)The author of the article points out how education tends to work these days:
Parents saw Hirsch’s call for a coherent grade-by-grade curriculum as an answer.Read the whole article, it's very good.
I was one of those parents. My children were students at P.S. 87 on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, also known as the William Tecumseh Sherman School. Our school enjoyed a reputation as one of the city’s education jewels, and parents clamored to get their kids in. But most of the teachers and principals had trained at Columbia University’s Teachers College, a bastion of so-called progressive education, and militantly defended the progressive-ed doctrine that facts were pedagogically unimportant. I once asked my younger son and some of his classmates, all top fifth-grade students, whether they knew anything about the historical figure after whom their school was named. Not only were they clueless about the military leader who delivered the final blow that brought down America’s slave empire; they hardly knew anything about the Civil War, either. When I complained to the school’s principal, he reassured me: “Our kids don’t need to learn about the Civil War. What they are learning at P.S. 87 is how to learn about the Civil War.”
With this in mind, I picked up the "Kindergartener" and "First Grader" books of his and looked through them with our 4th grader and history in mind. She pretty much learned the Kindergarten book, but apart from the stuff on Ancient Egypt in the First Grader book--a subject she has been very interested in and has been a great self-learner, I think she doesn't know most of that book. Not to mention the Second, Third, and Fourth grader books.
Today, we read the Ice Age section and the Egypt section together. Tomorrow we'll do Mesopotamia and the three major monotheistic religions. After that, we get to what I think she needs most--American History, of which she knows next to nothing. Mind you this is a girl that can go on at length about how Emilia Earhart grew up and how she played with her friends and siblings, but I asked her yesterday if she knew who Magellan was and she didn't have a clue--he's a dead, white man, you see.
I'll start looking at what to go over with our second grader soon too.