This text left me nodding vigorously at some sections and wanting to rip out the pages of other portions. Hirsch gives an impressively extensive backg...moreThis text left me nodding vigorously at some sections and wanting to rip out the pages of other portions. Hirsch gives an impressively extensive background of the establishment of the English language. When my students ask, "Who made these grammar rules and spelling decisions?" I can now give them quite a long answer. I love a book that makes me think, and as an educator, this text truly made me ponder my beliefs about education. Hirsch contends that literate adults know things that illiterate adults do not. They have cultural literacy, and there are common ideas, phrases, and words that literate share that allow them to hold intelligent discussions and read newspapers. I agree with this notion, and Hirsch proves it well.
He then continues by arguing that teaching skills is not enough, and we need our children to learn these extensive facts in order for them to become functioning, literate adults. My biggest problem with this idea is his list. The appendix contains 5,000 words and phrases (about half of the book). If we spent time teaching from this list, our students would suffer. School wouldn't be about inquiry---but about facts and cold information. I am more aligned with Dewey's approach. Our students must be given exploratory opportunities to enact inquisition. If we teach our students to be curious, they will want to read and learn, and then they will slowly learn these words and phrases. I imagine educators agreeing with this text and wanting to create multiple choice tests.
My other issue with this text is the fact that Hirsch is narcissistic enough to think that he can create the list of the words and phrases a cultured, literate American should know. He tries to validate this by arguing that he worked with a few others and they received feedback from over a hundred people. I was not impressed and found this to be quite pompous.
He ends with practical ways we might approach the integration of these words and phrases into curricula. I was extremely unhappy with his suggestion to provide a test for students at different levels to ensure that they are learning the facts. More tests? We would kill the love of learning with his approach to education.
While there are elements of Hirsch's argument that are sound and true, I was disappointed by many of the ideas he put forth. I agree that students need to become culturally literate, and I found this concept to be quite interesting and important, but I don't think that all educators will agree about which facts are most important. Hirsch does seem to understand this and explains how the process of picking these words and phrases is messy, and for me, the creation of this list is where many of the details of his argument are flawed.
He begins his book by explaining how saddened he is that a literary reference ("The tide falls") is lost on many people. I understand this allusion, and I disagree with Hirsch. If I used this phrase in a conversation and another person didn't understand it, I would explain it. That is the power of education and teaching each other. We are always learning, and we can always grow as cultured, literate adults. Knowing these specific 5,000 terms (or the many more his more extensive version) do not make us culturally literate.
Are you culturally literate? I included a few random words/phrases you should know from the "5,000 Essential Names, Phrases, Dates, and Concepts" section:
The illustrations! The illustrations! I was mesmerized by the gorgeous artwork in this text. As I read it aloud to my son and husband, I was oohing an...moreThe illustrations! The illustrations! I was mesmerized by the gorgeous artwork in this text. As I read it aloud to my son and husband, I was oohing and aahing at the bright, luscious colors. It made me want to go outdoors and lay among the weeds. If it wasn't the dead of the winter, I would pull my son outside and read the book to him in our garden. There are beautiful passages of figurative language--alliteration that reads like a song, and readers will be sucked into the sprawling passages that evoke lovely images. The book turns readers' assumptions on their heads. The words and images show that we can find beauty in, of all things, weeds. While I learned much about weeds and found the informational passages at the end (about different types of weeds) to be quite informative, I found the idea of weeds to be symbolic, too.
Teachers will find multiple opportunities with this text. They can use it to teach different types of figurative language, or they might ask students to explore weeds in a more symbolic way. I love the idea of using nonfiction at such a young age, and I wonder if teachers might try literature circles with this text. While it is marketed for ages 4-8, it could be used for different purposes with a variety of age groups. The informational passages at the end might allow teachers to help students research about different types of plants. I also love the illustrations so much that I would love to have kids take the pictures and write their own stories to match the images. It would show that nonfiction can be accessible and fun.(less)
The limited words on each page allow the reader to get lost in the beauty of the illustrations of this gorgeous children's book. I was expecting the t...moreThe limited words on each page allow the reader to get lost in the beauty of the illustrations of this gorgeous children's book. I was expecting the typical greens but was pleasantly surprised to see the clever takes on wacky green, slow green, and no green at all. I glided from page to page, appreciating the clever cutouts and visual appeal of this incredible children's book.
This text could be used at a variety of levels. In my reading, I felt it is really asking readers: "How many different ways can you look at the color green?" We see objects, colors, and basic things in our world one way, but how can we interpret them differently? I would love to see this used in a creative writing classroom.(less)