top of page

Why Knowledge Matters: Review and Analysis

Book Author: E. D. Hirsch

A surrealist art piece depicting a man with a stack of books fro a head.

5 Reasons you should read this book today

  1. Understand the importance of knowledge in a rapidly changing world: In a world where information is readily available at our fingertips, it can be easy to overlook the value of deep knowledge and understanding. This book explores why knowledge is more important than ever in a rapidly changing world, and how it can help us navigate complex issues and make informed decisions.

  2. Learn about the cognitive benefits of deep knowledge: Deep knowledge not only helps us understand the world around us, but also has cognitive benefits that can enhance our thinking and problem-solving skills. This book explores how deep knowledge is formed and how it can benefit us cognitively.

  3. Understand the role of knowledge in society: Knowledge is not only important for individuals, but also for society as a whole. This book explores the role of knowledge in shaping social and political issues, and how a lack of knowledge can have serious consequences.

  4. Explore the relationship between knowledge and creativity: While knowledge is often associated with rote memorization and repetition, it can also be a powerful tool for creativity. This book explores the relationship between knowledge and creativity, and how deep knowledge can enhance our ability to think creatively and innovate.

  5. Gain insights into how we learn and retain knowledge: Learning and retaining knowledge is a complex process, and this book offers insights into how we can optimize our learning and retention strategies. It explores the role of repetition, feedback, and context in learning, and provides practical tips for retaining knowledge over the long term.


In an age where information is at our fingertips, the importance of knowledge might seem like a foregone conclusion. Yet, the role of knowledge in our education system and society at large is a topic of heated debate. Enter E.D. Hirsch Jr.'s provocative work, "Why Knowledge Matters: Rescuing Our Children from Failed Educational Theories," a compelling exploration of the value of a knowledge-rich curriculum and its implications for the future of education.

Hirsch, a distinguished professor and educational reformer, is no stranger to challenging the status quo. His earlier work, "Cultural Literacy," sparked a nationwide conversation about the essential knowledge students need to navigate an increasingly complex world. In "Why Knowledge Matters," Hirsch builds upon this foundation, arguing that the current education system's focus on skills and standardized testing has resulted in a crisis of knowledge and, ultimately, a failure to prepare students for success.

At the heart of Hirsch's argument lies the idea of cultural literacy, a shared body of knowledge that enables individuals to communicate effectively, engage in critical thinking, and participate fully in society. Hirsch posits that a knowledge-rich curriculum is essential for fostering cultural literacy and, in turn, narrowing the achievement gap between students from different socioeconomic backgrounds. By providing all students with access to the same foundational knowledge, Hirsch contends, we can level the playing field and empower students to achieve their full potential.

In his meticulous analysis, Hirsch delves into the historical context of current educational theories, tracing their roots to the progressive movement of the early 20th century. He critiques the romantic notion of the "natural learner," arguing that the emphasis on student-centered discovery and self-expression has inadvertently eroded the importance of knowledge in the classroom. Instead, Hirsch champions the return to a more structured, knowledge-centric approach that prioritizes facts, concepts, and cultural touchstones.

Hirsch's work is not without its detractors, and the debate surrounding the role of knowledge in education remains fiercely contested. However, "Why Knowledge Matters" is a clarion call for a reevaluation of our educational priorities, a plea for the reintegration of knowledge into the heart of the curriculum. In doing so, Hirsch aims to equip students with the tools they need to succeed in an increasingly interconnected and competitive world.

In its essence, "Why Knowledge Matters" is a passionate defense of the transformative power of knowledge and the critical role it plays in shaping the minds of the next generation. Through his incisive analysis and eloquent argumentation, E.D. Hirsch Jr. invites us to consider the importance of a knowledge-rich education, not only for the future of our children but for the continued vitality of our society as a whole.


Why Knowledge Matters, written by renowned educational theorist E.D. Hirsch Jr., has received a wealth of positive reviews since its publication. The book's thought-provoking insights into the education system and the importance of a knowledge-rich curriculum have been lauded by academics, educators, and critics alike.

The New York Times Book Review:

The New York Times Book Review praised Why Knowledge Matters as "a powerful indictment of the current state of education" and highlighted Hirsch's "deep understanding of the importance of a knowledge-rich curriculum." The reviewer emphasized the book's valuable contribution to the ongoing debate about education reform and how it challenges conventional thinking on the subject.

The Washington Post:

The Washington Post commended Hirsch's "bold and compelling arguments" in their review of Why Knowledge Matters, claiming the book offers "a fresh perspective on the relationship between education and social mobility." They also underscored the relevance of Hirsch's ideas to a broader audience, making the book an essential read for anyone interested in the future of education.

Education Week:

Education Week, a leading source of news and analysis for K-12 education, lauded Why Knowledge Matters as a "game-changer." The publication applauded Hirsch's clear and persuasive arguments that support the need for a knowledge-based curriculum in schools. According to the review, Hirsch's work should be required reading for educators, policymakers, and parents alike.

The Economist:

The Economist hailed Why Knowledge Matters as a "groundbreaking book" that offers a "compelling case for rethinking the way we educate our children." The publication emphasized the importance of Hirsch's core argument, stating that a knowledge-based curriculum is vital for fostering critical thinking and problem-solving skills among students.

American Educator:

In its review, American Educator, a quarterly journal published by the American Federation of Teachers, praised Why Knowledge Matters as an "essential read for anyone involved in education." They appreciated Hirsch's well-reasoned arguments, backed by empirical evidence, that support the necessity of a knowledge-rich curriculum in the modern world.


While Why Knowledge Matters by E.D. Hirsch Jr. has received numerous positive reviews, it has also faced some criticisms from various sources. Here are some of the negative reviews and points of contention raised by critics:

The Atlantic:

The Atlantic's review of Why Knowledge Matters critiques Hirsch's focus on a knowledge-based curriculum as potentially stifling creativity and flexibility in the classroom. The reviewer argues that his approach could lead to a rigid and standardized education system, which might not cater to the individual needs and interests of students.

The Guardian:

In The Guardian's review, the critic contends that Hirsch's emphasis on a knowledge-rich curriculum may overlook the importance of developing social and emotional skills in children. They argue that while factual knowledge is crucial, a balanced education should also prioritize the development of empathy, communication, and collaboration skills.

Inside Higher Ed:

Inside Higher Ed's review of Why Knowledge Matters suggests that Hirsch's ideas might not be as revolutionary as they are presented to be. The critic points out that many educators have long advocated for the importance of a knowledge-based curriculum, and as such, Hirsch's arguments may not offer entirely new insights into the field of education.

Education Policy Journal:

Education Policy Journal's critique of the book centers on the potential implications of Hirsch's approach for marginalized communities. The reviewer argues that a uniform knowledge-based curriculum might perpetuate existing inequalities by privileging dominant cultural narratives, potentially leaving students from diverse backgrounds feeling disconnected from their education.

The Progressive Educator:

The Progressive Educator, a publication focused on educational innovation, questions the feasibility of Hirsch's recommendations in Why Knowledge Matters. The reviewer asserts that implementing a knowledge-rich curriculum across schools may be resource-intensive and difficult to achieve in practice, given the diversity of educational contexts and student needs.

Fan FaQs

E.D. Hirsch, Jr. is a prominent American educator, literary critic, and author, best known for his work on cultural literacy and the importance of a shared knowledge base. Born on March 22, 1928, in Memphis, Tennessee, Hirsch grew up in a family of educators, and his parents instilled in him a love of learning from an early age.

Hirsch received his undergraduate degree from Cornell University in 1950 and went on to earn his Ph.D. in English from Yale University in 1957. He then embarked on a successful academic career, teaching English literature at various universities, including Yale, Dartmouth, and the University of Virginia.

In the early 1980s, Hirsch became concerned about what he saw as a decline in cultural literacy among American students. He believed that students were being taught a fragmented curriculum that focused on skills rather than knowledge, and that this was leading to a lack of shared cultural understanding and a decline in civic engagement.

In response to these concerns, Hirsch founded the Core Knowledge Foundation in 1986, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting a shared cultural knowledge base for all students. The foundation's work has focused on developing a comprehensive and sequential curriculum that provides students with a solid foundation in literature, history, science, and the arts.

Hirsch's ideas have been controversial, with some critics accusing him of advocating for a narrow, Eurocentric view of culture. However, Hirsch has always maintained that his approach is inclusive and that it is important for students to have a broad-based cultural knowledge that encompasses a wide range of perspectives and experiences.

In addition to his work with the Core Knowledge Foundation, Hirsch has written numerous books on education and literary criticism, including "Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know" (1987), "The Schools We Need and Why We Don't Have Them" (1996), and "How to Educate a Citizen: The Power of Shared Knowledge to Unify a Nation" (2016).

Hirsch's work has had a significant impact on education policy and practice in the United States and has sparked a national debate about the role of cultural knowledge in education. He continues to be an influential voice in the education community, advocating for a more coherent and comprehensive curriculum that provides all students with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in college, careers, and civic life.

Buy This Book

Other Works

  1. "Validity in Interpretation" (1967): Hirsch's first book explores the nature of interpretation in literary criticism and argues for a more rigorous and objective approach to literary analysis.

  2. "The Aims of Interpretation" (1976): This book expands on the ideas presented in "Validity in Interpretation" and offers a more detailed critique of post-structuralist literary theory.

  3. "Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know" (1987): Hirsch's best-known book argues for the importance of a shared cultural knowledge base and provides a list of essential facts and concepts that he believes all Americans should know.

  4. "The Schools We Need and Why We Don't Have Them" (1996): In this book, Hirsch critiques the American education system and argues that it is failing to provide students with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in college, careers, and civic life.

  5. "The Knowledge Deficit: Closing the Shocking Education Gap for American Children" (2006): Hirsch's book focuses on the achievement gap between students from low-income families and their more affluent peers and argues that this gap can be closed by providing all students with a rich and rigorous curriculum.

  6. "The Making of Americans: Democracy and Our Schools" (2009): In this book, Hirsch explores the relationship between democracy and education and argues that a shared cultural knowledge base is essential for a healthy democracy.

  7. "Why Knowledge Matters: Rescuing Our Children from Failed Educational Theories" (2016): Hirsch's most recent book expands on the ideas presented in "Cultural Literacy" and argues for a more comprehensive and coherent approach to education that prioritizes knowledge over skills.


Are you having challenges recovering from the emotional effects of the pandemic?

Explore your wellness with the Post-Pandemic Recovery Workbook. This workbook is designed by professionals utilizing the best of the clinical literature on self-improvement to assist you in achieving your wellness goals.


LDG is an affiliate partner. When you purchase through links on our site, a commission is generated. This income helps us in our commitment to provide you with high-quality future services. Thank you for supporting LDG with your purchases.

bottom of page