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Introduction to the Founder of Common Core: E.D. Hirsch Jr.

Updated on December 26, 2019
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Brandon Riederer is an Adjunct Professor of English at Bryant & Stratton College. He has a M.A. in English from National University.

Founder of Common Core - E.D. Hirsch Jr.
Founder of Common Core - E.D. Hirsch Jr.

E.D. Hirsch Jr.

Hirsch’s greatest contribution to literary studies was his famous Validity in Interpretation (1967), which “argue[d] against nearly every contemporary critical practice in order to establish a set of principles for valid textual interpretation grounded primarily in authorial intention” (Cain et al. 1682). Thus, Hirsch’s highly controversial approach to hermeneutics placed him in firm opposition to New Critical and Formalist theories such as the intentional and the affective fallacies formulated by Wimsatt and Beardsley, as well as against Structuralist theories such as those argued by Roland Barthes in his Death of the Author (1968).

Hirsch’s work was inspired by Ferdinand Saussure’s linguistic distinction between parole and langue, in which he comes to the ultimate conclusion that consciousness, or thought, precedes language and guarantees its meaning (Cain et al. 1683). For this reason, Hirsch believes that literature is a suprapersonal and sharable conscious object in which the critic can undertake a reconstructive process to locate the author’s original intentions. He recognizes that critics rarely—if ever— have direct access to an author’s consciousness; however, his reconstructive process is a research dedicated to determining “the author’s horizon—the historical set of typical expectations, prohibitions, norms, and inferences about probable textual meaning” (Cain et al. 1683). In other words, for Hirsch, the task of the critic is to understand a text according to the probable logic of its author.

Even though Hirsch had virtually no allies during his fights against New Criticism, Formalism, and Structuralism during the mid-20th century, his legacy still has an impact on academia today. For instance, he is widely quoted for his distinction between a text’s meaning (authorial intention) and a text’s significance (as perceived by audiences), and he is a highly active educational reformer in the United States. Today he is most recognized, not so much as a literary critic anymore, but as the founder and chairman of the politically controversial, Core Knowledge Foundation , or simply known as ‘Common Core.’


Cain et al. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2001. Print.

© 2019 Instructor Riederer


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