10,000 Hours of Education History….And Counting

In early 2000 E. D. Hirsch, Jr, the developer of the “Core Knowledge” curriculum, said this about the growing importance of reading tests: “If you want students to do well on reading tests, they should read, read, read. Not spend time practicing taking reading tests.”

That interview is in the Learning Matters archive.

Some 25 years earlier I asked John Holt, the ‘deschooling’ advocate, a similar question.

Have you ever actually taken a reading achievement test and gone through it question by question and looked at the answer sheet to see what kinds of answers are declared to be right? Very instructive experience. It hasn’t got anything to do with reading. It has a lot to do with how to answer reading tests. ….
There are a number of things you can’t test on reading tests. One is how adventurously children read. Because good readers are adventurous readers. Kids who read well–you know, kids who wind up reading four and five years ahead of grade level, love books–they are the kids who are always reading books that are too hard for them. Because they don’t worry about what they don’t understand. But kids who are always being tested on their reading learn to read only what they can be sure they can answer all the questions about. So they don’t read adventurously, and so they become ‘not good’ readers.
You can’t test the adventurousness of reading. You can’t test how deeply kids respond to what they read, how real what they read is. It’s not testable. And those are the only things, the only things, that are important. If you get kids reading for the wrong reasons, you insure that they will not read for the right reasons.

His response is also in our archive.

In 1978 I asked Professor Jeanne Chall, the author of “Reading: The Great Debate,” when parents ought to begin reading to their children (I had a 3 ½-month old daughter at the time.) She had this to say:

Oh, I think you could start at 8 months of age. I’m not kidding. I’m not kidding, because I have seen 9-month-old children, 10-month-old children with little books of their own, fabric books, and I see them get up in the morning when everyone else is asleep and they play with their toys; and then they pick up one of these little books and by themselves, and to themselves they start pointing and laughing and making noises to the different pictures. You know, this, that and so on. When they can’t speak, of course, but they can do this… This is pre-reading behavior, and it’s terribly important for this child’s success later in the ‘beginning reading’ that you asked me about. Well, the point is, they start long before they start.
And by the time they are 2 ½ or 3, they will insist on reading something to you. Sometimes they’ll hold it upside down, but usually they’ll hold it straight. … All this is very important, and it only takes place if you read a great deal to the child, and the child imitates it back and goes through this process, do you see?

The archive that includes the interviews with Jeanne Chall, John Holt and Don Hirsch goes back to 1974. It now consists of approximately 10,000 hours (and counting) of broadcast quality video and audio covering 40 tumultuous years of American public education.

Here’s the question: What should we do with the archive? How can we make it accessible to scholars, students, reporters and others interested in American education?

Of course, historians, scholars, reporters and students seeking to understand the shifting winds of education reform since 1974 have other options: They might interview the participants who are still living; examine original documents; and review the day-to-day reportage.

Unfortunately, memories fade and change, people die, and yesterday’s journalism is inevitably incomplete. Those harsh realities often lead historians and scholars to surmise, to opine, fill in the gaps in other way–and to perhaps get the story wrong.

What if they could turn to the original sources, 10,000 hours of video and audio recorded by Learning Matters–which does not throw away, erase or discard recordings? The audio archive dates back to 1974, the year the “Options in Education” series began on National Public Radio. The video archive begins in 1982 with the 5-part “Your Children, Our Children” series. Our NewsHour reporting dates from 1985. The archive now includes more than 300 full-length documentaries and NewsHour pieces, about 500 NPR documentaries, and hundreds of audio and video podcasts.

Behind those produced pieces are hours and hours of uncut interviews with many of the leading lights{{1}} of American education: Albert Shanker, Deborah Meier, Jonathan Kozol, Richard Riley, Lamar Alexander, Margaret Spellings, Arne Duncan, John Holt, Jeanne Chall, Rod Paige, Bruno Bettelheim, Dr. Benjamin Spock, Dr. Berry Brazelton, Fred Rogers, Bob Keeshan, Marian Wright Edelman, James A. Nabrit, Jack Greenberg, William T. Coleman, Derrick Bell, William Taylor, Gary Orfield, Alonzo Crim, Mel and Norma Gabler, Michelle Rhee, Paul Vallas, Linda Darling-Hammond, David Hornbeck, Wendy Kopp, David Tyack, Urie Bronfenbrenner, Bernice “Bunny” Sandler, Margaret Mead, Leon Botstein, Arlene Ackerman, E.D. Hirsch, Jr, Joseph Olshevski, Joel Klein, Alan Bersin, Patricia Albjerg Graham, Fred Burke, Frank Newman, Diane Ravitch, Harold “Doc” Howe, Checker Finn, James Comer, Larry Cuban, Ken Komoski, John Porter, George Miller, Joseph Cronin, Ed Ziegler, Judah Schwartz, Louis V. Gerstner, Jr., Arthur Levine, Lynn Kagan, Stanley Kaplan, Yetta and Ken Goodman, Ralph Turlington, Alfie Kohn, Randi Weingarten, Dennis Van Roekel, George Gerbner, Peggy Charren, Henry Levin, Hayes Mizell, Ted Sizer and dozens more.

Also of great value to scholars are hours of uncut, unedited interviews with teachers, administrators and students, and hours of video and audio presenting schools, from pre-k to college, as they actually were, day by day, from 1974 to the present.{{2}}

The archive is a living, growing collection, because we are still hard at work, producing new reports and adding new material.

Where should this material be located, and with what safeguards?  We have a plan for completely digitizing, transcribing and cataloguing all the material so that it is fully searchable, and the Board of Learning Matters is committed to making it available. What we need now is the financial support to make this vision a reality.


[[1]]1. If you don’t recognize some names, try Googling them.[[1]]

[[2]]2. Here’s some detail of what the archive contains, by subject: 6 years in Philadelphia with David Hornbeck for “Toughest Job in America”; 4 years in Washington, DC, with Michelle Rhee—12 reports for the PBS NewsHour, plus Frontline material; 6 ½ years in New Orleans since Katrina: 15 PBS Newshour reports (plus many hours recorded well before Katrina) and material for our documentary “Rebirth” (now available on Netflix); 1 year in a Brooklyn PS following 5 1st year teachers—7 NewsHour reports and a 1-hour documentary; 1 year following the Intel science competition in two New York high schools; 3 years in a ‘Coalition of Essential Schools’ high school in Cincinnati; 2 years in New Orleans following Teach for America corps members; 2 years on multiple college campuses for “Declining by Degrees’; 1 year with ADD students/teachers for “ADD: A Dubious Diagnosis”; 1 year following a “turnaround” principal in Richmond, VA; 13 years of reporting about No Child Left Behind and its successor, the Obama Administration’s Race to the Top program; 2 years of reporting about the Common Core State Standards and their ramifications for public education; Deep exploration of education’s newest buzz words and hopes, such as ‘deeper learning’ and ‘blended learning’; Inside the college admissions process at Williams, Amherst, Dartmouth and Middlebury; 1 year’s worth of filming different ways technology is being incorporated into public schools across the country, from kindergarten to 12th grade, for our “Return of the School Sleuth” documentary, currently in production.[[2]]

7 thoughts on “10,000 Hours of Education History….And Counting

  1. If those six funders listed above think your Learning Matters work is worth funding (as I and so many others believe, there are six very good sources that should believe the material should be available as you suggest. Plea: keep the audio and/or video available as well; there’s so much you can get from voice patterns, body language, … Most universities, including those with great schools of education (Harvard, Columbia, …) have great archives depositories. BUT I’m preaching to the choir!!!


    • John, I would have posted the audio of Jeanne Chall, Don Hirsch and John Holt, but that material is in storage, where it will remain until we can get the project moving (until we can raise the funds). But you are absolutely correct about body language, tone, et cetera, which is another reason the archive is irreplaceable and unique.


  2. Do you remember the movies that I wrote About in the New York Times. Most

    teachers were were described as bubble brain tuna heads. You also
    Showed the video on TV

    April 16 1988


  3. Hi John,
    It occurs to me that a university with both a computer science department and an education department might take on the job for free for the honor.
    With the following assumptions, the job could be done in 10 months.
    10,000 hours of media
    5 hours processed per hour per student (…I could be off here!)
    =2,000 total student hours
    20 students
    10 hours / student / month
    = 10 months
    A lot would depend on how well the “system” was set up in advance, to be able to process the material. This is why the computer science department was invented!


  4. Hi, John:
    This would be a terrific resource for faculty in colleges of education, as well as others, who are interested in the history of education, especially the roots of our current reform movement in public education and teaching school subjects.
    I hope you’re able to raise the money.


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