Students getting to the Core of education at Washington Elementary
In pursuit of ‘rich knowledge base’
An oft-heard statement in education goes something like this: The world is changing so fast, the important thing for young
students isn't so much to gain knowledge as to be good at problem-solving.
Core Knowledge, now in its second year at Washington Elementary, takes the premise that unless you understand what's made the world the way it is, you won't be very good at solving problems in it.
“We're always doing a good job of teaching skills,” Principal Peter Cicatelli said. “We need to do this in conjunction with a rich knowledge base... At a very young age, we give our students an introduction to world history, life science and critical pieces of social studies and geography.”
Examples are preschoolers and kindergarteners reciting age-old nursery rhymes (gaining a sense of their societal roots, along with rhyme, listening skills and patterns of language), and older children studying great literature, famous individuals (from Archimedes to Babe Ruth), and early civilizations, including Greek and African.
This past semester, the fourth grade examined what life was like in medieval times. In that unit, which culminated this month with a dress-up party in the gym, “we've been training kids to understand history and culture so they can make connections to what's happening now,” teacher Connie Maier said. “They have to know where these people came from.”
Nor is such information taught in isolation. The various key knowledge aspects “cycle through the grade levels; they're not just offered one time,” Cicatelli said. “The information needs to keep coming up.”
Core Knowledge is taught in keeping with the District 11 curriculum requirements for skills acquisition, “but it's up to us to choose the materials to develop those skills and processes,” Cicatelli explained. For example, in learning about the body (as required for the District 11 curriculum), Cic-atelli noted that the district provides science kits, “but we're teaching more of the systems so kids can see how the parts interwork.”
He's enthused with how Core Knowledge is working at Washington. “Last year was our first year. This year we're moving into more depth with it,” he said. As for the kids, “when they know they will be learning how a particular part of the world affects their lives, they are much more enthusiastic and motivated.”
Less than 10 years old, Core Knowledge was the brainchild of E. D. Hirsch, Jr., an educator who believes that schools need to bridge the learning gap between rich and poor - a gap that results in large part because children from more affluent homes pick up essential world information from their parents.
In one of his writings, titled “Fairness and Core Knowledge,” Hirsch states: “It is a fundamental injustice that what American children learn in school should be determined by whether their homes have given them the background knowledge they need for academic work… (The) 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.”
Or, as Maier said, in simpler terms, “There are things people need to know to get along in life.”
Westside Pioneer article