The Knowledge Deficit by E. D. Hirsch Professor of English

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Synopsis

E. D. Hirsch, Jr., author of the best-selling Cultural Literacy and our most insightful thinker on what schools teach, offers an urgent solution to the shocking national decline in children's reading ability.

How can it be, Hirsch asks, that American students score so low among developed nations in international comparisons -- and that they perform worse the longer they stay in school?

Drawing on arresting classroom scenes, the history of ideas, and current understanding of the patterns of intellectual growth, Hirsch builds the powerful case that, while our schools excel at teaching the mechanics of reading, they fail virtually all American children -- poor and middle class, in public and private schools -- because of their inability to convey the more complex and essential skills of reading comprehension. Hirsch brilliantly reasons that literacy depends less on the formalistic reading "skills" taught in virtually every school across America and more on exposure to content-rich, appealing books.

His argument is compelling, for it - gives parents specific tools for enhancing their child's ability to read with comprehension; - shows how No Child Left Behind and SATs measure reading comprehension -- a knowledge-based skill not successfully taught in our schools; - tackles the weaknesses of specific state-by-state curricula - explains in detail how American schools can serve as the strongest possible antidote to poverty and to our frustrating race-based achievement gap

A road map for all thinking parents, teachers, and citizens, The Knowledge Deficit shows exactly how we can convert all American schools into places where the skill of reading comprehension is effectively imparted -- and why this goal is ever more essential to the democratic ideal.
 

About E. D. Hirsch Professor of English

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Hirsch is a conservative critic best known for his repudiation of critical approaches to literature (chiefly poststructuralism and New Criticism) that assume that the author's intentions do not determine readings. He argues that any such methodology is guilty of "the organic fallacy," the belief that the text leads a life of its own. For Hirsch, the author's authority is the key to literary interpretation: The critic's job is to reproduce textual meaning by recovering the author's consciousness, which guarantees the validity of an interpretation. In his two most important books, Validity in Interpretation (1967) and its sequel, The Aims of Interpretation (1976), Hirsch warns against the "critical anarchy" that follows from the "cognitive atheism" of both relativism and subjectivism. For him, these result from a corollary of the organic fallacy, the thesis that meaning is ultimately indeterminate because it changes over time or with the differing interests and values of different readers. According to Hirsch, meaning does not change; only value or significance does, as readers relate a text's fixed meaning to their cultures. If there is more than one valid interpretation of a text, it is because literature may be reduced to more than one "intrinsic genre" or meaning type---the particular set of conventions governing ways of seeing and of making meaning at the time the author was writing. Many critics suggest that the intentions Hirsch recovers in intrinsic genres are really his own, rather than those of the author, because no one, including Hirsch, can escape his or her historically conditioned frame of reference when developing interpretations of literature. Hirsch's recent books, including Cultural Literacy (1987), are seen as proof of those flaws by those who are troubled by the history and values of the dominant culture that Hirsch insists is the only culture. Hirsch argues that "common knowledge" is being denied minority students and others by feminists and other "radicals" who have undermined the authority of its great texts.
 
Published April 24, 2006 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 192 pages
Genres: Education & Reference. Non-fiction

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