- Youngkin should now use his credibility with parents to promote a vision for Virginia schools that serves the interest of all the Commonwealth’s children. Tweet This
- A savvy governor could vault himself to national prominence by embracing and promoting Hirsch’s vision, making his state’s education performance the envy of all the others. Tweet This
Editor's Note: This week, the Institute for Family Studies is hosting a symposium featuring family-friendly policy suggestions for Virginia Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin and his administration. We invited a variety of scholars to submit one piece of policy advice to help the Youngkin administration reform Virginia's public policies to be more responsive to parents. First up is AEI's Robert Pondiscio.
Glenn Youngkin became Governor-elect of Virginia defending parents against those who dismissed their concerns about curriculum and school culture as unserious and unworthy. That wasn’t just good politics; it demonstrates respect for our decentralized education system, which makes a virtue of local control. Having galvanized parental discontent with technocratic elites into a potent political force, Youngkin should now use his credibility with parents to promote a vision for Virginia schools that serves the interest of all the Commonwealth’s children. He could do this by calling upon his fellow Virginian, E.D. Hirsch, Jr.
Hirsch, a professor emeritus at the University of Virginia, is an avowed man of the left, yet beloved by the right. For more than four decades he has advanced a vision for American public education that is elegant and equitable. It’s grounded in the way language works: literate writers and speakers make assumptions about what their readers and listeners know. When those assumptions are correct, communication proceeds almost effortlessly. This simple, scientifically unassailable insight, however, has vast implications for K-12 education. It suggests that the most important job of public schools is to ensure that every child—rich or poor; black, white, or brown—has fair and equal access to the same body of knowledge in history, science, art, and literature.
The failure of our schools to provide this to students explains a significant measure of the poor performance that has bedeviled American education for over a half century. Fashionable thought in education practice and policy has long run in the opposite direction, dwelling on socioeconomic differences between students, and nearly fetishizing personalized curricular content. It hasn’t worked. It cannot work.
We will be able to achieve a just and prosperous society only when our schools ensure that everyone commands enough shared background knowledge to be able to communicate effectively with everyone else.
A sensible, savvy governor could vault himself to national prominence by embracing and promoting Hirsch’s vision, making his state’s education performance the envy of all the others, and striking a hammer blow for genuine equity.
Who better than the governor of Hirsch’s own state?
Robert Pondiscio is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a former teacher, and the author of How the Other Half Learns.
*The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or views of the Institute for Family Studies.