Tucker Takes Zhao in Just One Round

by E. D. Hirsch, Jr.
January 16th, 2013

High praise for Marc Tucker’s thoughtful response to Yong Zhao’s well-meaning, but terribly misguided, critique of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Since I’ve decided to judge this boxing match, I’m calling a TKO. Tucker won round one so easily that it would be dangerous for Zhao to try to fight on.

Zhao reveals that he does not know much about the CCSS (he expects a new world “where all American children are exposed to the same content, delivered by highly standardized teachers”) and has been duped by left-brain/right-brain silliness (he writes that “Right-brained directed skills, including design, story, symphony, empathy, play, and meaning, will become more valuable…. [But] the core subjects prescribed by the Common Core … are mostly left-brained cognitive skills”). Tucker refutes Zhao’s key points effortlessly. I hope you’ll read their exchange, so I’ll just give two highlights:

1. Tucker on Zhao’s concern that the CCSS will quash creativity:

“The literature is clear.  Truly creative people know a lot and they have worked hard at learning it.  They typically know a lot about unrelated things and their creativity comes from putting those unrelated things together in unusual ways.  Learning almost anything really well depends on mastering the conceptual structure of the underlying disciplines, because, without that scaffolding, we are not able to put new information and skills to work.”

2. Tucker on Zhao’s concern that the CCSS will not prepare students for tomorrow’s unknown jobs:

“It is true that the future will be full of jobs that do not exist now and challenges we cannot even imagine yet, never mind anticipate accurately.  But, whatever those challenges turn out to be, I can guarantee you that they will not be met by people without strong quantitative skills, people who cannot construct a sound argument, people who know little of history or geography or economics, people who cannot write well.”

The fact is, the new standards are a big step toward preparing all students for more rigorous higher education—be it online, on a traditional college campus, or on the job. What folks like Zhao are missing is a solid understanding of the research on language comprehension, effective communication, critical thinking, and other crucial abilities (like being responsible citizens). These abilities depend on knowledge. Not just any knowledge—relevant, subject- and task-specific knowledge. The more extensive the knowledge, the deeper the analysis. The CCSS—because they bring higher-quality fiction and dramatically more nonfiction into the classroom, and because they provide a coherent, focused, and rigorous approach to mathematics—will help millions of students develop such knowledge.