Why Knowledge Matters: Rescuing Our Children from Failed Educational Theories

Front Cover
Harvard Education Press, Jan 2, 2019 - Education - 280 pages
In Why Knowledge Matters, E. D. Hirsch, Jr., presents evidence from cognitive science, sociology, and education history to further the argument for a knowledge-based elementary curriculum.

Influential scholar Hirsch, author of The Knowledge Deficit, asserts that a carefully planned curriculum that imparts communal knowledge is essential in achieving one of the most fundamental aims and objectives of education: preparing students for lifelong success. Hirsch examines historical and contemporary evidence from the United States and other nations, including France, and affirms that a knowledge-based approach has improved both achievement and equity in schools where it has been instituted.

In contrast, educational change of the past several decades in the United States has endorsed a skills-based approach, founded on, Hirsch points out, many incorrect assumptions about child development and how children learn. He recommends new policies that are better aligned with our current understanding of neuroscience, developmental psychology, and social science.

The book focuses on six persistent problems that merit the attention of contemporary education reform: the over-testing of students in the name of educational accountability; the scapegoating of teachers; the fadeout of preschool gains; the narrowing of the curriculum to crowd out history, geography, science, literature, and the arts; the achievement gap between demographic groups; and the reliance on standards, such as the Common Core State Standards, that are not linked to a rigorous curriculum.

Why Knowledge Matters makes a clear case for educational innovation and introduces a new generation of American educators to Hirsch’s astute and passionate analysis.

What people are saying - Write a review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - Kanst - LibraryThing

Hirsch has written many books at this point, but this one deserves a special place for the detailed analysis of French schools. French public schooling has done an about face in recent decades, and ... Read full review

Why Knowledge Matters: Rescuing Our Children from Failed Educational Theories

User Review  - Publishers Weekly

Hirsch (Cultural Literacy), founder of the Core Knowledge Foundation, assesses recent reports on education in the U.S. and abroad to reaffirm his career-long crusade for a coherent, cumulative, and ... Read full review


The Tyranny of Three Ideas
The Invalid Testing of Students
The Scapegoating of Teachers
Preschool and the Persistence of Fadeout
The Dilution of the Elementary Curriculum
The Persistence of Achievement Gaps
The Tribulations of the Common Core
The Educational Fall of France
Breaking Free
The Origins of NaturalDevelopment Theories of Education
Translations of French Reports
The Japanese Early Science Curriculum
About the Author

The KnowledgeBased School

Other editions - View all

Common terms and phrases

About the author (2019)

E. D. Hirsch, Jr., is the author of numerous books, including the bestsellers Cultural Literacy and The Dictionary of Cultural Literacy (both Houghton Mifflin). Other books by Hirsch on related subjects are A First Dictionary of Cultural Literacy (Mariner); the Core Knowledge Sequence, What Your [First Through Sixth] Grader Needs to Know (Doubleday); The Schools We Need and Why We Don’t Have Them (Anchor); and most recently, The Making of Americans (Yale University Press). These works have influenced recent educational thought and practice in the United States and other countries.

Hirsch is a graduate of Cornell University, and holds master’s and doctoral degrees from Yale University. He began his teaching career at Yale, specializing in Romantic Poetry and Literary Theory, and in 1966 became Professor of English at the University of Virginia, where he served twice as chairman of his department. Before his retirement in 2000 he held the position of University Professor of Education and Humanities. In 1977, he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and in 1997 to the International Academy of Education. He is the recipient of several honorary degrees, has been a Fulbright and a Guggenheim fellow, a fellow of the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University, a Humanities fellow at Princeton University, a fellow at the Australian National University, and an honoree of the Royal Dutch Academy and of the National Academy in Rome. He received the biennial QuEST award of the American Federation of Teachers in 1997, and the Fordham Award for Valor in Education in 2003. In 2012, the Education Commission of the States presented Hirsch with the Conant Award for “Outstanding Contributions to American Education.” He has served on many advisory boards, including the National Council on Educational Research.

Hirsch is founder of the nonprofit Core Knowledge Foundation, an organization that continues to advise and help schools, with over one thousand Core Knowledge schools in forty-seven states and abroad.

Bibliographic information