This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, April 1, 1992

April 1, 1992 - Plum Creek Monster

This is going to sound strange.

First, I should tell you that I'm in early at the library today, working hard against my News-Press deadline. The time: 6:45 a.m., one of the few times in the day when the phone doesn't ring. The weather this morning? Cool and moist. A low, luminous blanket of fog is lazing over the long grass and railroad tracks to the south of my office.

Today's topic is Connie Jones's talk on April 7, at the Philip S. Miller Library, beginning at 7 p.m. Ms. Jones is the principal of an elementary school in Florida that has adopted the "Core Knowledge Curriculum" -- an outgrowth of E.D. Hirsch Jr.'s "Cultural Literacy" research. At 7 p.m. next Tuesday, Ms. Jones will be talking about why her school selected the Core Knowledge Curriculum, and how well it's working.

But that's not what's strange.

A few minutes ago, as I was turning on my computer, I caught an odd motion out of the corner of my eye.

A bulky, bent-over shape -- someone definitely smaller than me (I'm 5'11") -- jumped over the railroad tracks. I didn't get a good look. But whoever it was, was dressed very oddly. She (he?) was wearing some kind of long, hairy coat. I think it was a woman because it was carrying something over its left shoulder. A purse, probably. But it didn't move like a woman. It moved ... well, this is silly. But it moved a lot like one of the gorillas at the Denver zoo.


As I was saying, Ms. Jones will be talking about the Core Knowledge Curriculum. I happen to have in front of me a copy of "What Your First Grader Needs to Know" -- the first primer of the Core Knowledge Curriculum.

As you may have heard, Hirsch believes that American education needs to rediscover the importance of identifying and presenting a specific body of knowledge. He offers an alternative to the fact-free focus on "self-esteem" and "critical thinking" and other nebulous "educational objectives." In Hirsch's view, there must also be a solid base of information, an educational foundation, each of which has identifiable content, and builds on previous knowledge.

For instance, by the end of your first year of schooling, you should know the name "Rumpelstiltskin." You should understand subtraction through the tens. You should have been introduced to the notion of the food chain, you should be familiar with the names George Washington, Copernicus, King Tut -- and so on.

So what's the point? Well, there are four points.

First, Hirsch writes that "shared background knowledge makes schooling more effective." If everybody gets the same information, class time can be focused on moving that information forward. If some students aren't up to speed, then parents can help, because they know exactly which subjects to tutor their children, and how much information has to be covered.

Wow! There it goes again! This time, that woman (?) ran closer to my southernmost window. Really fast, though. Whoever it is, I think she must be sick. Her face looked kind of green. I hope I shut the front door when I came in. And her purse looked more like ... nah. Couldn't be.

Second, Hirsch writes that "Shared background knowledge makes schooling more fair and democratic." The Core Knowledge Curriculum gives all kids the same data, in the same sequence. It doesn't matter if you're poor, or your parents didn't have a lot of books around. In class, everybody talks about the same things.

Third, "Defining a specific core of knowledge for each grade motivates everyone through definite, attainable standards." Lately, there's been a lot of talk about American student achievement against the achievement of other students around the world. Here's a way to define the goal, figure out how to teach it, and measure the results.

Hey! The, well, whatever, just picked up a branch the size of my thigh and broke it with one quick snap. Must be a man. A bum, maybe jumped from the train. Strong, though.

Okay, FOURTH, "Shared background knowledge helps create cooperation and solidarity in school and in the nation." Is it just me, or is the whole sense of America as melting pot, as something larger than place of origin or religious background, beginning to fade away, to be replaced by an ever more fragmented sense of "cultural diversity?"

Don't get me wrong. I'm a big believer in tolerance, in the ability of some of us to learn from the rest of us. But to have really informative talks, we also need to speak a common language, with common reference points. Is that what is missing from modern education?

Maybe that's the problem with my mysterious guest outside. Maybe he just doesn't know how to ... whoa!

So help me, I just saw somebody in some kind of ape mask lean against my window, look me right in the eye, WAVE A CHICKEN OVER ITS HEAD, then lope off toward the Plum Creek Country Club.

That's it. I'm getting the column in. Hope to see you next week at the talk.

But don't even mention anything about a Plum Creek Monster. I don't believe it.

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