I used the phrase “down a rabbit hole” in a Huffington Post column this week about the need for a rich, coherent curriculum to close achievement gaps.

My assumption was that readers would recognize the reference to Lewis Carroll’s novel, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. That is the book in which a young girl falls into a rabbit hole and encounters a confusing fantasy world populated with a White Rabbit, a Mad Hatter, and a Cheshire Cat, among others — all of whom are iconic literary figures. Anyone who doesn’t recognize those characters and at least vaguely understand what they represent is bound to miss the meaning of many conversations and stories.

Ensuring that students know the things educated people generally know is one of the basic arguments for ensuring that students are exposed to a rich, coherent curriculum that systematically builds knowledge about history, science, literature, and the arts.

Without that clear direction, we are left — in one of Alice’s arguably most profound encounters — to the advice of the Cheshire Cat:

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?” [asked Alice]

“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.

“I don’t much care where —” said Alice.

“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.

“— so long as I get SOMEWHERE,” Alice added as an explanation.

“Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.”