Curriculum: The Influence of ED Hirsch

Greg Sloan is head of Media Studies at Haggerston School. He challenges the way that the ED Hirsch-styled cultural literacy is being imposed by central government. As an alternative Sloan proposed bespoke local curriculum cultures.

Sloan questions why the academic arguments for a National Curriculum have “simply disappeared” and asks whether “a narrow band of cultural literacy champions in the Department for Education” have been allowed to decide what is taught to young people. Sloan quotes the then schools minister who describes how after the 2010 election civil servants were confronted by politicians wielding copies of the American core curriculum.


“However, the ideas of Hirsch are controversial because they propose that there are set ideas that all people should know and set lists of knowledge that all children should be taught. By knowing these things people will then be culturally literate enough to move (successfully) through the world. Essentially it means teaching people facts. It doesn’t take much theorising on this Gradgrindian approach to education to reach some fairly obvious and clear problems.”


“Allowing students to be individuals and to allow a breadth and depth of education is something that Hirsch sees as damaging rather than emancipatory. His outline for a culturally literate society is one in which there is a core knowledge understood by everybody and for this to happen there needs to be more standardisation, not less.”

Sloan points out how arbitrary the choice of “key themes” (facts, essentially) that are chosen in Common Core:

“a call for greater equality in schooling standards is not the same as asking for an inevitably limiting set of topics to be discussed on repeat in every educational setting. If anything this idea could do many students a disservice. By narrowing their curriculum down to lists it dissolves the enthusiasm for a breadth and depth of knowledge alongside an enthusiasm for self-investigation of the academic world that the most privileged students often possess.”

Sloan questions whose culture is being presented in the common core and points out that the attitude is that the current classics are the cultural status quo. Sloan makes a call to “resist any attempts at perpetuating a canon of culture predominantly from a false idea of western civilization”. He argues that an idea of a “canon” also needs to be resisted and that there should be “a constructive dialogue between the tastes of the teacher and those of the students”.