Sunday, April 19, 2009

Icahn, in a Nutshell

In doing a little research on the Carl Icahn Charter School for a recent post, I discovered that the school subscribes to the Core Knowledge curriculum. Now, I don't recall all that much about E. D. Hirsch, but I remember reading Cultural Literacy way back when it was new, and I liked the idea. In a nutshell, Hirsch said that we all need to know what the idiom "in a nutshell" meant--in other words, that there is a core base of knowledge that one must possess to be considered educated in our society. In an America educated the Hirsch way, there would be no such show as "Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader?"--we all would be. (OK, I'll be the first to admit that I like this show. It's a guilty pleasure to watch a contestant who went to Harvard and got 3.7 GPA drop out of school on a second grade spelling question.)

A lot of people dumped on Hirsch for this philosophy, but I think he's right. We can sweat the details, such as whether everyone should be familiar with MacBeth or Hamlet, but unless you've read a Shakespearean play or two, you aren't truly educated (and no, you math geeks don't get a free pass on this--I know what the Pythagorean Theorem is and how solve a quadratic equation, so you have to know the name of the salesman in Death of a Salesman--and no, it's not Dustin Hoffman).

My question is this: Why does the Carl Icahn Charter School get to teach cultural literacy while I still have to teach to the test? If I tried to teach Of Mice and Men as whole group instruction, I'd be U-rated before your could say, "Living off the fat of the land!" Wouldn't this be a better country if more people knew who Sydney Carton was than who Jeff Foxworthy is?

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