15 February 2012
Hirsch, Freire, and our Pedagogical System
The idea that we are falling behind in the ever advancing race for the highest education rates frightens many Americans. China and Japan have already surpassed the United States in Science and Math, but are they also going to pass us in English literacy rates? Scholars and non-scholars alike have decided that reform is needed to improve our entire education system for the students and our country. English experts have tried to solve our ever declining literacy rates with different theories and years of research. Two of the front runners, Paulo Freire and E. D. Hirsch, have come up with two ideas that have caused agreement and contention between those who are trying to increase literacy rates. Freire gives us the idea that we need to expand on critical literacy and relate our words to our world and our world to our words. He wants students to have more freedom in their learning environment. On the other hand, Hirsch wants a more centralized curriculum to expand our country’s Cultural Literacy. While these two ideas might seem to be complete polar opposites of each other they actually have some similarities. Great ideas can be taken from both of these authors and applied to the reform of our education system desperately needs. There are parts that I agree and disagree with from both Hirsch and Freire, but I believe Freire makes more applicable points. While Hirsch makes the good point that cultural knowledge is required for literacy, I believe that Freire’s critical literacy and “word-world” association would provide a better foundation for pedagogical reform because it is more open for students with different learning abilities and incorporates both culture and personal experience into literacy. While both Hirsch and Freire have well developed thoughts and ideas, their theories also have some flaws. In his book, Cultural Literacy, Hirsch gives a five-thousand item list that he claims “every American needs to know” (Cook 487). By this, Hirsch meant that all literate Americans should have some basic knowledge about every item on the list to be able to relate and understand to other’s readings. This list caused controversy from all sides. Even though it is not Hirsch’s main point, it does make an impact on his idea of cultural literacy. As Paul Cook, an author who wrote an essay in response to Hirsch’s book, puts it, “potentially productive encounters are sometimes thwarted by our general inability to get around the brazenness in which the proposals are packages” (487). Cook means that even though his book had all of the best intentions, it is flawed because many people could not look over the infamous list that disregarded his other points. This list mainly has items and propaganda from European history and America’s British roots which I find very wrong because the United States is diverse. Hirsch’s book seems to have a white culture focus with little regard for minority groups. As Woodhouse points out, Hirsch wrongly puts these groups on the periphery and that soon they could become the dominant culture (81). Woodhouse means that Hirsch puts the minorities on the outside of the overall picture and focusing on the middle majority only. While Hirsch only focuses on the majority instead of the individual, Freire might go too far in the other direction and focus only on the individual. Freire did not want a strict curriculum that insists “on a quantity of reading without [the] internalization of texts” that would bore students or force them to not actually learn anything (285). By this he means that students should not be forced to read a text that cannot be applied to their lives because they will not actually comprehend it. He wanted teaching and learning to be more focused on the individual’s personal experiences. This idea is flawed though because the United States is very large and people in all different areas...
Cited: Cook, Paul G. "The Rhetoricity of Cultural Literacy." Pedagogy 9.3 (2009): 487-500.
Freire, Paulo. “The Importance of the Act of Reading.” Academic Universe: Research and Writing at Oklahoma State University. Eds. Richard Frohock, Karen Sisk, Jessica Glover, Joshua Cross, James Burbaker, Jean Alger, Jessica Fokken, Kerry Jones, Kimberly Dyer-Fisher, and Ron Brooks. 2nd ed. Plymouth: Hayden-McNeil, 2012. 281-286. Print.
Hirsch, E.D. “Cultural Literacy.” Academic Universe: Research and Writing at Oklahoma State University. Eds. Richard Frohock, Karen Sisk, Jessica Glover, Joshua Cross, James Burbaker, Jean Alger, Jessica Fokken, Kerry Jones, Kimberly Dyer-Fisher, and Ron Brooks. 2nd ed. Plymouth: Hayden-McNeil, 2012. 289-299. Print.
Woodhouse, Howard R. “Critical Reflections on Hirsch and Cultural Literacy.” Interchange 20.3 (1989): 80-89. Print
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