The Education Complex

And the need to return to basics
Unsplash, Robin Worrall

The education complex is obsessed with high-level, higher order, and critical thinking. They worship at the temple of Bloom’s Taxonomy. Children need to analyze, evaluate, and create, not just memorize or retell. However, before children can climb to the top of this pyramid, they must graduate above the first levels — knowledge and comprehension.

Stop and ask yourself, when was the last time you witnessed a group of diverse thinkers participate in a discussion at the highest levels. Never? No, you’ve seen it. This discussion may have even involved thinkers separated by five years or more, but more often than not they all had some shared knowledge about the topic.

Or have you ever seen kids talk about video games? They evaluate, critique, and create their own original thoughts. Obviously, interest plays a part in the engagement, but the real building block is knowledge and comprehension. They know the facts of the tame. What are the weapons? What is the map? What are the costumes? What are the basic rules? So regardless of their adolescent brains, they can critically discuss various gameplay conventions or plot details with critical skill.

Without a knowledge of basic, simple facts, entrance into high-level thought is impossible. Without basic learning, students will miss the opportunity to build their far more complex skills off analysis, evaluation, and creativity.

This might seem inane, but the same rules apply to learning in general. How can children discuss history, politics, or science at a high level if they don’t know the facts? Without the foundational basics, children are locked out of education.

E.D. Hirsch pointed out thirty years ago that we’re doing a terrible job at teaching facts. We have denigrated rote memorization and dismissed facts as trivia. Drill and kill has been killed. Educators unwisely believed they could skip the first levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy and rushed to the top of Bloom’s temple. The results have been disastrous.

We need to return to and teach the basics. They must be drilled into the brains of children like the catechism. It’s unlikely that America will wake up tomorrow and every state will agree on a set of basic facts worth learning. This was nearly impossible two decades ago. With the nation seemingly on the brink of national divorce, a shared curriculum of facts is a pipe dream.

It’s also worth noting that Hirsch’s core principle of a shared common curriculum was adopted but unfairly mutated into common core. Superficially, Hirsch’s principles and common core seem to align, but they are fundamentally different. The common core is a set of abstract skills. Hirsch’s belief is that education must be built on a common foundation of content knowledge sequenced year after year. Common core is a plastic toy replica of a real, robust, curricular meal.

What isn’t quixotic is what you can do as a teacher or parent. It’s not revolutionary nor particularly difficult, but within weeks, you’ll see the returns.

Buy an old textbook — the older the better. Modern texts are woke and revisionist. The government’s hands are all over the text along with Howard Zinn’s poison. Get an old, simple book. Read a couple pages and share some facts with your children. It can be a third-grade science book. Maybe you have forgotten the phases of the moon or what a neap tide is. Learn some facts. Share some facts. And wait for the high-level thinking to happen. Wait for the questions to naturally occur and curiosity to arise.

The government is not going to save us. A leader is not going to save us. The schools are not going to transform society. Society is made of individuals and so it’s up to us to improve it. There are small things that you can do, so do them.

Pearce Dietrich
Pearce Dietrich is a former Title I School Teacher/Administrator. His online social studies curriculum and other content can be found at his blog

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Chalkboard Review team.

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