A Questionable Schema

by Robert Pondiscio
November 12th, 2012

Here’s a charming group of second graders singing the “Background Knowledge Song” to the tune of Oh My Darling, Clementine.

The words are a little difficult to understand, which might indicate the kids themselves aren’t entirely clear on the lyrics.  But the ditty seems to be a reading strategies lesson, reminding the kids to “check my schema” when they read to ensure comprehension.

“Think about all the things I know about the text before I read.
Building schema really helps me comprehend the words I read.
While I’m reading, I keep thinking ‘Does what I read make sense to me?’
If it doesn’t I check my schema, then I re-read carefully.

“Building schema, building schema
I do it every time I read.
Because it gives me background knowledge
For the next books that I read”

I don’t wish to be overly critical of an earnest attempt to make kids better readers.  But does it really help second graders’ comprehension to toss around (let alone sing about) terms like “building schema?”   I’m skeptical.  The word itself is more jargon than vocabulary.  Call it the Lipnicki Effect.  It’s cute, funny and sometimes impressive to hear arcane facts and fancy words come out of the mouths of small children, but is there any educational value?   Perhaps the better question is what’s the better use of instructional time:  teaching kids to activate their background knowledge when they read? Or actually building background knowledge?

Sorry, I meant schema.

 

When the Common Core=Teaching Reading Strategies 2.0

by Guest Blogger
August 17th, 2012

By Rachel Levy

According to its advocates, the Common Core Standards will usher in an era of equal opportunity to higher quality education via better, richer, and more career and college relevant standards. But if the account presented in this post on Education Sector’s The Quick & The Ed is any indication, I fear the Common Core ELA standards will keep us in the same era we’ve been in.

I first came across Susan Headden’s post, “Getting Complicated With Texts: Understanding the New ELA Standards,” describing a hands-on workshop she attended on the Common Core ELA standards, via a John Thompson post “Does Common Core Have It Backwards?” in This Week in Education. The idea that most struck Thompson (who is no Common Core hater) as concerning was:

“The group was left with the overarching message that mastering text complexity is the secret to reading success.” . . . .Teachers were told that “the problem with questions based on experience is that they exclude students who haven’t had those experiences. ‘Text … is the great equalizer.’”

Thompson says that’s wrong:

The key to teaching anything for mastery is understanding the human complexity within our kids. The logic underlaying that conclusion was even worse. Even if the assessment experts who conducted the professional development have never stepped foot in the inner city, they should know that the opposite applies in high-challenge schools.  Our path to success is building on the students’ strengths, based on their real-life learning.

I don’t disagree with Thompson but I would go much further. Vital to teaching anything (okay, vital to teaching reading) for mastery to any students, is background knowledge. The Common Core is supposed to go further than just asking students to learn from text by relating the general themes in the text it to their own personal experiences. As it should, but that doesn’t mean we should limit what they are learning to the content of the texts they are studying. From Headden’s post:

As we did our reading, we kept the hallmarks of complexity in mind. On the high end of the scale, they include: structure that is unconventional rather than expected, ideas that are implicit rather than explicit, and language that is figurative rather than literal, archaic rather than contemporary, and vague rather than clear. Sentences in very complex texts tend to be complicated rather than straightforward, and vocabulary is academic rather than plain.  Informational text that is defined as complex might require specialized knowledge, have multiple meanings, and an obscure purpose. Complex literary texts tend to include references to other texts, demand cultural knowledge, and carry sophisticated, multiple perspectives. (More than one participant noted that such texts might well meet the standard of complexity, but that they might also fit the definition of bad writing.)

The group engaged in a lively discussion about how much context a teacher should supply with a reading selection. “Are you helping [students] understand the more background you give him?” Liben asked. Yes, he said. “But are you making them better readers?” No.  “If you call attention to the ‘hard parts’ are you helping them comprehend?” Yes, he said. “But you are depriving them of the opportunity to find key turning points on their own.”  In short, he asked his audience, “Do you measure success by how much you smooth the road for your teachers, or by how bumpy the road is?” The Common Core clearly leans toward the bumps.

According to this account, teachers and being told that reading comprehension is a transferable skill, that the Common Core will improve reading comprehension by virtue of giving students more complex texts to work through.

Although I’ve been critical of the Common Core Standards, that they focus on reading strategies was not one of my criticisms; to the contrary, that they emphasized content knowledge, a greater study of literature, and more and more complex writing were selling points. But this account makes the Common Core ELA Standards sound as if they are skill-heavy, or at least that teachers are being guided to implement them as if they were. The problem is you can’t really teach something like “text complexity” any more than you can teach something like the “main idea.” Just because the texts are more “complex” doesn’t make using them in the place of simpler texts a superior approach or any different from the reading strategies approach. Apart from the acknowledgement that all teachers have to teach vocabulary (agreed), there’s no nod to background knowledge or context in Headden’s post. And even teaching vocabulary doesn’t do much good if it’s taught in isolation, though certainly explicitly teaching the meaning of morphemes can help students to build and make meaning of vocabulary.

Finally, while the practice of “quality over quantity” in education resonates with me, “reading success” with complex texts even with a lot of content knowledge won’t happen without practice. Besides the fact that it will pretty quickly bore or frustrate the bejesus out of them, you can’t just have students study the patterns and codes of complex text and then imagine they’ll apply those to future complex texts and viola! they’ll be better readers. No, students have to practice. They have to read lots and lots—fiction and non-fiction books, literature, magazines, newspapers, poetry, short stories, blogs—until the patterns and structures in each genre become predictable and recognizable.

The key to reading success is a vocabulary and knowledge-rich curriculum and a lot of practice reading. If the Common Core ELA Standards don’t include this, then they won’t be much of an improvement or change from current ELA standards. However, even if the Common Core Standards result in more content-rich ELA classrooms, which means students with more background knowledge and possibly more productive focus on text complexity, for now, as Thompson points out, text is not the great equalizer. Its divides students rather starkly not based on complexity or structure but according to schema, or what they already know. If teachers don’t or aren’t able to take this into account and scaffold appropriately, students will flounder and the CCSS will fail to help them.

Rachel Levy is a parent, teacher, and writer who lives in Central Virginia, with her husband and three children. She normally blogs at All Things Education.

How to Make Kids Hate Reading

by Robert Pondiscio
May 1st, 2012

Building reading instruction around comprehension strategies is not only ineffective, it also takes the joy out of reading, writes Dan Willingham in his latest blog post.

The UVA cognitive scientist has long argued that while reading strategies have some value–principally in helping students understand that what they read should have some communicative value–it’s a huge mistake to think of reading comprehension as a transferable skill that can be learned, practiced, and applied to any text.  Practicing reading strategies ad nauseam doesn’t confer any particular advantage.  Data are hard to find on just how much time is spent in practice on “finding the main idea,” “determining the author’s purpose”  and other such strategies in the average classroom. “But whatever the proportion of time, much of it is wasted, at least if educators think it’s improving comprehension,” Willingham writes, “because the one-time boost to comprehension can be had for perhaps five or ten sessions of 20 or 30 minutes each.”

Moreover, Willingham notes that the wasted time “represents a significant opportunity cost.”   Why? Because building reading instruction around strategies “makes reading really boring”:

“How can you get lost in a narrative world if you think you’re supposed to be posing questions to yourself all the time? How can a child get really absorbed in a book about ants or meteorology if she thinks that reading means pausing every now and then to anticipate what will happen next, or to question the author’s purpose?

If one of the goals in reading instruction is to develop a love of reading, strategies instruction is not merely unhelpful, but counterproductive, he argues.  “Reading comprehension strategies seem to take a process that could bring joy, and turn it into work,” Willingham concludes.

Yet Another Study to Ignore

by Robert Pondiscio
August 5th, 2010

Another blow for metacognitive reading strategies. 

A study by a team from the University of York in the U.K. sought to learn which of three interventions led to lasting improvement among 8- and 9-year olds with reading comprehension difficulties.   One intervention relied heavily on reading strategies; a second emphasized vocabulary and relied exclusively on spoken language; the third blended the two approaches.  Science Daily reports the children were assessed before the program began, and nearly a year after it ended.

“The results showed that while all three of the training programs helped to improve reading comprehension, the largest long-term gains occurred for children who were in the oral language training group.  According to the authors, ‘The [oral language] and [combined] groups also showed improvements in knowledge of the meanings of words that they had been taught and these improvements, in turn, helped to account for these children’s improved reading comprehension skills.”

Among those least surprised by the findings:  the developers of the Core Knowledge Language Arts program, which has been piloted in New York City and elsewhere with promising results.  The program relies heavily on building vocabulary and content knowledge via a “listening and learning” component.  Interestingly, children in the oral language group showed greater lasting gains than the blended group, which suggests “the total amount of time devoted to oral-language training may be crucial for overcoming reading-comprehension difficulties.”

“Deficits in oral vocabulary may be one important underlying cause of children’s reading-comprehension problems,” the study concludes.

Just so.  In fact, there’s so much evidence for this, I predict this is exactly the kind of thing DOE will throw millions at when the i3 grants are announced…Er…what?  Last night?   Who??  You’re kidding.  Seriously?!?

I keep forgetting that DOE already knows what works for kids.  It has nothing to do with curriculum. Right. 

OK, folks, show’s over.  Nothing more to see here.  Everybody go on back to your homes.

Reading Research: Looking Where the Light is Better

by Robert Pondiscio
January 12th, 2010

There’s an old joke about a drunk looking his wallet under a streetlight instead of in the dark alley where he dropped it?  Why?  “Because the light’s better here.”  

I thought of that joke when reading Dan Willingham’s latest over at the Washington Post’s Answer Sheet blog.  Willingham has written extensively about the importance of background knowledge to reading comprehension and the limited benefit of reading strategies instruction.  Dan’s observation, “teaching content IS teaching reading” has become my personal mantra.  But if it’s true, then why the continued focus on reading strategy instruction in teacher training and professional development?

Anti-intellectualism?  No.  Dan’s thesis is both simple and surprising: it’s a function of how academic research is carried out.  For starters, educational research is “a more conservative enterprise than you might think” and there are structural incentives rewarding short-term research in which measurable effects are easy to isolate.”

Consider what it takes to do research on strategy instruction versus knowledge instruction. Teaching children reading strategies is quick. A research project might call for 10 or 20 lessons in total, each lasting 30 minutes or less. One can imagine getting a school administrator’s permission to do such a study in his or her district.  But the hypothesis for knowledge instruction is that it takes years to make a broad impact on students’ knowledge.

Measuring the effects of background knowledge would require a whole new curriculum across grades  for validity.  “A researcher will not (and should not) persuade a school administrator to change curricula just for the sake of a research project,” Dan writes.

The comparative ease of doing reading strategies research combined with the inherent conservatism of the research process means that most reading research is strategy research, and that there is a dearth of research on the impact of a knowledge-rich curriculum on reading. Researchers usually find that strategy instruction leads to big effects, but they are not looking at it long-term.”

In short, researchers are looking where the light is better, not where the answers are.

Literacy Creep

by Robert Pondiscio
January 11th, 2010

An article in last week’s Education Week looks at the increasingly common practice of reading aloud to middle and high school students.  In discussing the practice with Mary Ann Zehr (I’m quoted briefly in the piece) I made the point that while there is certainly nothing wrong with reading out loud to teenagers, it is symptomatic of what I call “literacy creep” — the tendency of elementary school-style instructional techniques to find their way deeper into K-12 education across all content areas.  

Reading aloud can be engaging for students of any age.  Poetry and drama, for example, are written to be heard, not read.   The danger comes when we use read-alouds as a crutch, to make up for students’ inability to read independently ignoring the root causes.   Zehr quotes one middle school teacher who reads The Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bar Fraction Book to her 7th and 8th grade math students.  That particular book is one that Scholastic markets for children from PreK to 3rd grade.  It’s hard to imagine such a basic picture book engaging middle schoolers.  The clear implication is that the students’ reading and math ability is nowhere near where it ought to be, thus a read aloud is making a virtue of necessity.

It’s unfair to pick on an isolated example, no matter how egregious.  But there is a clear move afoot to make explicit literacy instruction something that doesn’t end in elementary school, or ever.   The recent Carnegie Foundation Report, Time to Act: An Agenda for Advancing Adolescent Literacy for College and Career Success calls quite clearly for “explicit instruction in reading and writing all the way through grade 12.”  The report bases its recommendation for continued literacy instruction on the observation that “promising early performance and gains in reading achievement seem to dissipate as students move into and through the middle grades.”  Is that due to discontinued reading instruction?  A more likely culprit is the failure to impart a broad body of content knowledge to students in the elementary grades, a point E.D. Hirsch has written and lectured about repeatedly for decades. 

Calls for reading instruction to continue all the way through high school tend to ignore the fact that reading fluency increases with “domain knowledge.”  When you read about a familiar subject you make rapid connections between your prior knowledge and the new information the author wants to communicate.  It is not hard to imagine how metacognition, the “thinking about your thinking” that is encouraged in reading strategy instruction in beginning readers, may work against comprehension of complicated texts.  You can’t think about the content of an advanced text while monitoring your comprehension.  By comparison when you read with background knowledge, all of your mental resources are focused on making connections between the new material and what you already know.  You’re free to to draw inferences, and consider the implications of the new information.  Hirsch has used the metaphor of a snowball to describe how knowledge builds on knowledge:

The words that children hear in school are like so many snowflakes falling on the school ground. Disadvantaged children may hear the words, but they do not pick up the meanings, whereas children who have already accumulated a covering of knowledge and vocabulary will be picking up knowledge rapidly. As their academic snowball grows, so does their ability to accumulate still more knowledge — in strong contrast to disadvantaged students whose initially meager learning abilities get smaller and smaller by comparison, humiliating them still further and destroying their motivation. This continual widening of the learning gap cannot be halted unless schools make a systematic effort to build up the specific background knowledge that disadvantaged children need.

Rather than make the connection between prior knowledge and comprehension, the Carnegie report instead focuses on the physical attributes of print: texts become longer, word and sentence complexity increases, graphic representations become more important, the report notes.  

Not only do textual demands increase as young people move through the grades, but the types of text used begins to vary widely across content areas. Each content area in middle and high school demands a different approach to reading, writing, and thinking. Texts read in history class are different from those read in biology, which in turn are substantially different from novels, poems, or essays read in English language arts (ELA). As a result, reading comprehension and writing demands differ across the content areas including ELA.

Surely this is an overstatement. Yes, reading a science text is fundamentally different than reading a history text or a novel.  One is about science, the other history and the third a work of fiction.  Once you have the ability to decode and understand most of the words, the difference maker is background knowledge. If we have shortchanged children’s foundational knowledge in the content areas as elementary school students, we should not be surprised that they struggle to make sense of more advanced content readings in high school.  The answer surely cannot be to treat science, history, math and literature texts and strange beasts that require different sets of muscles to wrestle with. 

It seems obvious that a commitment to building background knowledge, and a national commitment to a shared body of knowledge across academic disciplines would be far more efficacious than insisting that the act of reading a science text is somehow fundamentally different act than reading a history text.  It is like suggesting that driving to the grocery store is fundamentally different than driving to school, or that a different kind of vehicle is required.

“Content area teachers must be prepared to support the literacy skills of students who have mastered basic reading skills but who struggle with the more sophisticated demands of reading within the content areas,” the Carnegie report argues.   To a hammer everything is a nail. And to advocates of skills-driven instruction, there are only skills.  In short, we are all literacy teachers now.  No more reading to learn.  There is only learning to read.   Instead of bringing literacy instruction to the content areas, it makes far more sense to bring content into literacy instruction from the very start of schooling.

Failure to acknowledge the critical role of background knowledge in comprehension can only lead – is only leading – to an endless process of scaffolding and backfilling, including reading aloud to high school students.  The best that can be said of enshrining such basic techniques of emerging literacy instruction at all points from K to 12 is that it’s making a virtue of necessity.   We would be far better served if we committed ourselves to ensuring that children leave elementary school with the background knowledge they need for fluency in the content areas, rather than sentence them to what feels like perpetual remediation.

Inferencing Test

by Robert Pondiscio
October 1st, 2009

“After failing to move a runner past first base for the entire game, the Giants sent Davis to the plate with the potential tying and winning runs in scoring position.  Unfortunately, he hit into a 6-4-3 double play to end the game.”

  1.  How many outs were there when Davis came to bat?
  2. To whom did he hit the ball?
  3. Describe the kind ball he hit (pop up? Line drive? etc.)
  4. What was the final score of the game
  5. How many runners were on base?

If you are able to answer all five of these questions (#5 is tricky) is it because you have mastered the ”reading skill” of making inferences. Or because your knowledge of baseball fills in the gaps for you?

Willingham: Reading Is Not a Skill

by Robert Pondiscio
September 28th, 2009

Dan Willingham reviews the draft voluntary national standards in reading and sees a problem:  ”Teachers and administrators are likely to read those 18 standards and to try to teach to them,” he notes.  “But reading comprehension is not a ‘skill’ that can be taught directly.”

His latest blog post at the Washington Post’s education page observes that teachers tend to teach comprehension as a series of “reading strategies” that can be practiced and mastered. “Unfortunately it really doesn’t work that way,” he writes. “The mainspring of comprehension is prior knowledge—the stuff readers already know that enables them to create understanding as they read.”

Prior knowledge is vital to comprehension because writers omit information. For example, suppose you read “He just got a new puppy. His landlord is angry.” You easily understand the logical connection between those sentences because you know things about puppies (they aren’t housebroken), carpets (urine stains them) and landlords (they are protective of their property.)

Policymakers need to pay attention here because this is what those of us who complain about curriculum narrowing are complaining about: the natural impulse to focus on pure reading instruction in an attempt to boost reading scores is self-defeating.  When you see, as Dan does, how “bad readers” look like good readers when they have background knowledge to bring to bear on a topic, the reasonable goal of education becomes increasing the number of topics children know something about.  It may sound smart, even heroic, to focus like a laser on reading instruction, but ultimately the law of diminishing returns kicks in.  You build comprehension by building background knowledge in the reader–not by endless practice in determining the author’s purpose, finding the main idea and making inferences. 

The kids who score well on reading tests are ones who know a lot about the world—they have a lot of prior knowledge about a wide range of things–and so that whatever they are asked to read about on the test, they likely know something about it….Can’t you teach kids how to reason about texts, and thereby wring the meaning out of it even if they don’t have the right prior knowledge?  To some extent, but it doesn’t seem to help as much as you might expect. For one thing, this sort of reasoning is difficult mental work. For another, it’s slow, and so it breaks up the flow of the story you’re reading, and the fun of the story is lost.

And Dan has a line in his post that I wish could be on the wall of every classroom in the country:  “Hoping that students without relevant prior knowledge will reason their way through a story is a recipe for creating a student who doesn’t like reading.”

Ultimately the draft national standards do not serve us well by reinforcing the idea that reading a a skill.  It’s not, Willingham notes:

The mistaken idea that reading is a skill—learn to crack the code, practice comprehension strategies and you can read anything—may be the single biggest factor holding back reading achievement in the country. Students will not meet standards that way. The knowledge base problem must be solved.

A request–no a plea, really:  Forward Dan’s post to every teacher you know.  Tweet it.  Blog it. Put it on your Facebook page.  Do it now.   We’re not going to solve this problem until or unless we see this for what it is.  Here’s the link: Reading Is Not a Skill.  Pass the word.  And while you’re at it, here’s Dan’s video, Teaching Content Is Teaching Reading

 

Reading Strategies and Cargo Cult Science

by Robert Pondiscio
July 16th, 2009

The idea that it’s enough to simply ”find what works, adopt it, and spread it around,” notes scientist/blogger Allison over at Kitchen Table Math is an example of what physicist Richard Feynman called “Cargo Cult Science“:

In the South Seas there is a Cargo Cult of people. During the war they saw airplanes land with lots of good materials, and they want the same thing to happen now. So they’ve arranged to make things like runways, to put fires along the sides of the runways, to make a wooden hut for a man to sit in, with two wooden pieces on his head like headphones and bars of bamboo sticking out like antennas—he’s the controller—and they wait for the airplanes to land. They’re doing everything right. The form is perfect. It looks exactly the way it looked before. But it doesn’t work. No airplanes land. So I call these things Cargo Cult Science, because they follow all the apparent precepts and forms of scientific investigation, but they’re missing something essential, because the planes don’t land.

“Cargo Cult education seems to be all the rage in lots of communities,” Allison notes.  “Sure, districts could just start grabbing lessons from high performing schools but that won’t make the students suddenly read or write.  Unless they understand what’s underneath the ‘lessons of the high performing school’ then it won’t matter.”

I had never heard this Feyman anecdote but I may have to start calling our reliance on “reading strategies” instruction “Cargo Cult Reading.”  Its entire point  is to teach children “what good readers do” and the habits of mind that are reflexive to able readers.  It’s the exactly the same thing–you teach kids to mimic the behaviors that lead to comprehension–but without the background knowledge that actually makes it possible.  Indeed, a staple of strategy instruction is to teach children that good readers ”activate their prior knowledge to create mental images, ask questions, and make inferences.”  How exactly does that work in the absence of prior knowledge to activate? 

One of the things that more advantaged students typically bring to school is a lifetime of background knowledge (or “schema” as reading strategy enthusiasts prefer to call it) that makes comprehension possible.  Without it you’re sitting in the jungle waiting for the planes to land.

Whose Core Knowledge?

by Robert Pondiscio
April 8th, 2009

The normally thoughtful and engaging Clay Burell swings and misses at E.D. Hirsch’s recent New York Times op-ed about reading tests, painting with an uncharacteristically broad brush.   Relying on the standard misperception of Hirsch and Core Knowledge as promoting ”the white male-privileged narrative of history,” Burell writes that such a curriculum is “unfair to those very disadvantaged students Hirsch claims will benefit from his model.”  This ignores the fact that the curriculum has had its greatest success with low-SES students.  Pay a visit to schools like the Carl Icahn Charter School in the South Bronx; P.S. 124 in Queens; Atlanta’s Capitol View Elementary; among others.  I don’t believe you’ll find much evidence of unfairness.

There are a couple of problems with Clay’s analysis of Hirsch’s piece.  First, the immediate benefit of teaching a broad, content-rich curriculum is not cultural (although no apologies need to be made for familiarizing students with the history and culture of their own country and the broader world) but structural.  Reading comprehension suffers in disadvantaged children exactly because they lack the background knowledge to make sense of what they read.  Indeed, Burell himself underscored the crucial role of content knowledge in creating strong readers in a post a few months ago praising Dan Willingham’s Teaching Content is Teaching Reading YouTube video.  Hirsch has been making the same argument for decades. 

Clay wants Hirsch’s essay to address critical thinking, but that wasn’t the point of the piece.  Hirsch’s singular service to education has been to attempt to define the broad body of background knowledge that speakers and writers assume their audience knows, and point out that literacy (as well as critical thinking and other so-called “21st Century” skills) depends on sharing it.  The curse of this contribution is that it is easy to dismiss it, as Alfie Kohn typically does (and I fear Burell does too) as “a bunch o’ facts” and “rote memorization” even though Hirsch has never even so much as hinted that kids should memorize lists of names and dates.  Clay wants the curriculum infused with critical thinking questions, but where is the disagreement?  There’s absolutely nothing in the Core Knowledge curriculum that suggests or implies it has come down from Mt. Sinai on stone tablets and must be taught, unquestioned, in a specific way.  Good teachers like Burell, an Apple Distinguished Educator, have always–will always–infuse their teaching with thoughtful perspectives and critical thinking.  How does a set curriculum prevent them from doing so?  How does defining what to teach determine how to teach it?  The answer is simple: it doesn’t.  

He also takes issue with Hirsch’s criticism of reading strategy instruction.  Allowing for Clay’s personal experience, I think he underestimates the damage done to children by a heavy over-reliance on such instruction in the elementary grades.  In many disadvantaged schools, strategy instruction IS reading instruction, at the expense of science, history, art and music.   The result is a vicious circle where kids robotically search for the main idea or “question the author.”  But their lack of content knowledge prevents them from meaningfully answering the ”metacognitive” questions they are trained (speaking of rote memorization) to pose. 

We’re never going to get away from the rhetorical questions with which Burell challenges Core Knowledge (“Knowledge of what? From whose perspective? In whose interests?”) nor should we.  But it’s dispiriting that smart educators like Burell are chary about a specific curriculum out of some misperception of balance, fairness or perpective.  If you want students to be critical thinkers–and to his credit Burell clearly does–what better way than to give them the background knowledge they need to grapple with precisely the questions he suggests?

Clay is on more solid ground, I think when he suggests “If we can talk leaving high school content under the control of local teachers, not dictated by national content tests, then maybe  – high school teachers could fill in the silences left by the national(istic) 3-8 standards, teach race, gender, and class-based perspectives in history that almost surely wouldn’t be covered earlier.”   Not a bad idea, that.  If every kid comes to high school with a shared body of knowledge that is both strong and subtle, then those high school classes could be rich in critical thinking and challenging perspectives.  Without it, we’re frozen forever at the starting line, searching for some shared subject or common ground to engage with and argue about. 

Email me your address, Clay (Seriously).  I’ve got a copy of the Core Knowledge Sequence with your name on it.  See what’s in it, and see how pedagogically prescriptive it’s not, and ask yourself which students would get the most out of your high school humanities class: those who walked in with a firm grasp of the content it describes?  Or those whose sense of history, science and the arts was left to chance?