Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know

Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know

4.8 5
by E. D. Hirsch

View All Available Formats & Editions

In this forceful manifesto, Hirsch argues that children in the U.S. are being deprived of the basic knowledge that would enable them to function in contemporary society. Includes 5,000 essential facts to know.


In this forceful manifesto, Hirsch argues that children in the U.S. are being deprived of the basic knowledge that would enable them to function in contemporary society. Includes 5,000 essential facts to know.

Editorial Reviews

John Gross
It makes fascinating reading, particularly when we bear in mind that, apart from a number of scientific items (included, somewhat inconsistently, in an effort to improve things), it is an attempt to establish what all culturally literate Americans actually know, not what they ought to know. . . . Mr. Hirsch's proposal merits serious consideration. -- New York Times

Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
Edition description:
1st Vintage Books ed
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.16(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.67(d)

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >

Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
DomSaxum More than 1 year ago
Though somewhat dated now, Hirsch uses a plethora of real-world examples to show that one cannot simply know the dictionary definitions of words and be able to comprehend normal linguistic communications. Human knowledge is about a communication of information, not simply the possession of information. The phrase "9/11" means nothing without an understanding of the cultural significance of that date to Americans. Very good read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
MauraDawn More than 1 year ago
In Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know, E.D. Hirsch paints a picture of what has happened to our society because of the decline of cultural literacy. He feels that it is not the fault of the teachers or students, but the fault of curriculums, practices, and theories that are not suitable for helping students gain the background information needed to function in the world. Hirsch narrows down the catalyst that set this decline in motion to one event: The changing from curriculum based on the Committee of Ten to the Cardinal Principles of Secondary Education. Hirsch discusses that before the Cardinal Principles students were all taught the same information and were graduating from school with equal knowledge. Because all knowledge was equal, communication was easy and intelligent. With the change to a more humanistic approach through the Cardinal Principles, students were offered a variety of classes that were more suited to make them happy and productive members of society, instead of being equal. It is easy to listen to a person speak and understand the words they have used, the difficulty lies in a person's ability to understand the context in which the words have been spoken. Over the past century, a noticeable decline in literate knowledge has taken place. The knowledge that we have is not being shared with the youth of our countries. The fact is the younger generations in this country have not gained the background knowledge that most other older generations have been able to acquire in the past. Hirsch shares that in order for a person to be culturally literate, they must possess a certain amount of background knowledge. That knowledge is what ties our society together, as well as enables us to bridge the gap with other cultures. As our cultural literacy begins to slide, the ability to communicate effectively is slowly disappearing. Hirsch's biggest comparison lies between Public and Private schools. He discusses how private schools follow a rigorous academic curriculum with few vocational classes, unlike public schools that have an academic curriculum, yet only require half of the amount for each student as a private school. A study showed that it does not matter what the socioeconomic status of the student is, but what they were learning in school, that helped to improve a student's cultural literacy. Once again Hirsch draws back to the fact that the move to the Cardinal Principles took away the needed academic classes that students had to influence their understanding and absorption of knowledge. Hirsch believes in reform, and in his book he has given many great examples of why there is a need to return to a more stable curriculum. There are many issues that would have to be accounted for if the curriculum were to flow back into a more content specific style. Many people would feel that it was taking away the rights of the individual, but it is possible that by taking curriculum back to its basic roots, education could possibly be improved. It is obvious that what we are doing may not be working as well as we would like to believe. I do not know if it could work, but I feel that Hirsch's theories are quite sound and really could aide our country in improving the cultural literacy of society. Hirsch provides amazing insight into the state of our nation and how education has declined as a result of poor practices in curriclum. This book is a must read for any educator!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Great tool for measuring American literacy, a very real entity that needs be addressed from pre-school through college. Highly recommended.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A thought-provoking essay about learning and how to maximize reading ablility and comprehension. Very insightful data about current teaching philosophies and why they are ineffective. A little difficult to read due to the scientific and scholarly style, but well worth the effort!