As we mark the thirtieth anniversary of the publication of Cultural Literacy, we’d like to share this portion of an interview with E. D. Hirsch, Jr., originally posted by Amplify, the Core Knowledge Foundation’s commercial partner for nationwide distribution of professionally printed and packaged Core Knowledge Language Arts® classroom materials.
Amplify: How would you describe the driving principle behind Core Knowledge Language Arts®?
EDH: The whole Core Knowledge movement is an attempt to offer all students, quite systematically, the general knowledge they need to be good readers and learners.
Amplify: How did you come to realize this was the best way to teach students to read and write?
EDH: The aha moment came back in 1978, when I realized that the community college students we were testing along with University of Virginia students could read just as well as anyone else when the topic was familiar — “Why I don’t like my roommate,” etc. But their reading began to fall off drastically in passages about the Civil War, which they were not on familiar terms with. And this was in Richmond, Virginia. In boring down into the psycholinguistic research, I found that topic familiarity was the single most important variable in reading comprehension. This meant that the most important variable for general reading ability was general knowledge. There’s no such thing as abstract “reading skill.” It’s very “domain specific,” like most skills.
Amplify: Why haven’t more districts and schools adopted a similar approach to CKLA™ when it comes to their ELA programs?
EDH: Most professors of education who teach our teachers continue to regard reading as a general skill. It’s not altogether their fault. That was the understanding of reading until 30 or 40 years ago. But they haven’t kept up with the research.
For the complete interview, visit the Amplify blog.