Hirsch and Gardner: Leading American Ed Leaders

Perhaps the two leading debaters in the education world these days are ED Hirsch of Cultural Literacy fame and Howard Gardner, best known for his theory of multiple intelligences.

I have been turning back to one book by each of them lately (The Disciplined Mind, by Howard Gardner and The Schools We Need and Why We Don’t Have Them, by E.D. Hirsch), and will be posting responses in the coming days.

I do want to recommend both books as two of the most thoughtful representations of the two leading views on conventional education.

Gardner considers Hirsch an empiricist and Hirsch, so far as I know, doesn’t dispute the charge. Gardner considers himself a constructivist, and Hirsch considers constructivism a psychological truism that has made unfounded claims about pedagogy.

I consider both of them invaluable sources for stimulation and thought. I don’t agree with the ultimate foundations of either of them, but both of them are so careful in their thinking and so clear in their presentation that the act of reading them sharpens my own thoughts about eduacation. Both offer much I do agree with.

In his work The Disciplined Mind, Gardner uses common sense to point out that “A sensible way to think about education is to “plan backward: to determine the kind of person one would like to see emerge at the end of an educatonal regime…. The challenge then becomes to sculpt an educational approach that is most likely to achieve that vision.”

It’s funny how little of this common sense is applied in American education, but it is tragic too, because the main reason it isn’t is because American education has no sound theory about what a child is. Is he the divine image or a blob of protoplasm headed for the dung heap? Is he chemical processes or infinite soul? Is he entirely physical or is he also spiritual?

As a result, when anybody suggests an end, cries of tyranny (usually justly) arise. Until we know what a human being is, we should not concern ourselves with his formation.

Gardner continues: “It is easy to see why so many educational systems have foundered. Designers survey knowledge and skills that seem important and decide to cover them all.”

And where do these designers gain the wisdom to make such decisions for a national community?

Look for more on Gardner and Hirsch (both rejoicing in our agreements and picking bones) in future posts.

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