Cultural Literacy

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					Cultural Literacy
According to E.D. Hirsch

According to E.D. Hirsch, to be culturally literate is to possess the
basic information to thrive in the modern world. It is the ³grasp on the
background information that writers and speakers assume their audience
already has.² In his book, Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs
to Know, Hirsch sets forth 5,000 essential words and phrases of which
each person should be knowledgeable.   The list ranges from idioms to
mythology, from science to fairy tales. Why has this list prompted a
notable debate on our country¹s educational standards? E.D. Hirsch
believes that the literacy of American people has been rapidly declining.
The long range remedy for restoring and improving American literacy must
be to ³institute a policy of imparting common information in our
schools.² In short, according to Hirsch - the answer to our problem lies
within the list.
Hirsch¹s book explains the importance of the need of a higher level of
national literacy. His main argument is that cultural literacy is
required for effective communication and the ³cooperation of many
people...² Communication is what Hirsch sees is essential for success in
today¹s society.   Communication is the key to equality in America. With
increased cultural literacy, an egalitarian society is eventually
possible. One common body of knowledge for everyone will be the glue that
holds society together.
Hirsch also points out the senselessness of concepts such as multi-
culturalism and multi-lingualism. He acknowledges the importance of the
numerous cultures and ethnicities of which United States is comprised.
Hirsch mentions the ³hyphenated American: the Italo-American, the
Polish-American, the Afro-American, the Asian-American and so forth.² He
points out that he is in favor of each minority¹s protection, nurture,
and respect; however, he strongly feels that people need to decide what
³ŒAmerican¹ means on the other side of the hyphen...what national values
and traditions really belong to national cultural literacy.² American
cultural literacy should be based on our traditions -- morality of
tolerance and benevolence, the Golden Rule, communal cooperation,
altruism and freedom. It is in this way that Hirsch argues those in
opposition of cultural literacy. Many opponents question Hirsch¹s view
by questioning who would decide this common body of knowledge for
everyone. People debate what is included in ³the list² on the basis of
multiculturism. They ask, is the knowledge equally important to every
citizen of the United States no matter what race, gender or religion?
Hirsch responds by putting the emphasis on the other side of the hyphen -
the American side.
When reading Hirsch¹s book, I strongly agreed with his big picture of
cultural literacy and agree that it is important to establish a common
body of knowledge for students consisting of important facts. However, I
think Hirsch takes it a step too far by comprising a sample list that
intentionally excludes Americans that are of different origin. Hirsch
needs to keep in mind that the United States was founded on the ideal
that anyone and everyone should be free and equal -- no matter where they
come from or who they are. In essence - multi-culturalism is a part of
America¹s foundation and I think that students should be educated on that
ground no matter what Hirsch¹s ³list² says. I believe that Hirsch¹s
views regarding multi-culturalism and multi-lingualism are completely one
sided and too extreme to be applied in today¹s typical American
Although it is simple to imagine the glorious outcome of a nation that is
fully literate and educated in several areas, one must look at the
details. In spite of Dewey¹s revolutionary philosophy on education,
Hirsch stands completely opposite. Dewey¹s philosophy stresses the
crucial role of experience in a student¹s education and development. His
system would prepare the student for life in the ³real world² -- for
everyday interactions with peer and co-workers.
 Hirsch criticizes methods advocated by Dewey and Rousseau by saying that
a child needs to ³learn the traditions of the particular human society
and culture it is born into....American children need traditional
information at a very early age.² But what role does traditional
information play in today¹s society? Hirsch longs for the historic
educational system of memorization. He plans for the student to use this
information when engaging in somewhat intellectual discussions and
reading materials by preparing him for the author¹s brief allusions and
references. For the majority of Americans who are working blue-collar
jobs -- traditional information plays virtually no role at all. The
memorization of dates and names was simply a waste of time in the
classroom; their education is not being applied to their lifestyles.
This sort of education may be important for some people in the United
States, but not everyone can memorize dates and names, the truth is -
not everyone needs to. Therefore, I think the best kind of education
will combine the theories of Dewey and Hirsch. This could be done by
involving hands-on experiences in addition to a lesson or lecture. Too
much of either type of education simply won¹t be advantageous to students
once they are out of school.
I found Cultural Literacy particularly interesting because of the fact
that I am attending Colgate University, a liberal arts school. It is
the mission of a liberal arts school to educate each student in several
different areas and for each student to become knowledgeable of a core
curriculum. In a sense, this is what Hirsch wants for every school in the
United States.   From my experience, Hirsch¹s perspective does have
validity, but he has a tendency to underestimate the importance of a
student¹s interest in the learning processCoprights: Jens Shriver