Hirsch included in his book “The Thinking American’s List,” which takes up about 75 pages, single-spaced and in two columns. It ranges from nursery rhymes to authors to dates to geometry terms to sayings. You get the idea. His idea was that a complete education would expose children to all of these concepts.
I must say that I have been embarrassed more than once when people in other countries know more about US history than I do. They often seem to be more culturally literate than I am. Why is that?
Looking back at my childhood, I see a lot of dinners eaten as a family in front of the TV. Even if it was the news we were watching, we didn’t discuss much of anything. We never talked about literature because my parents didn’t read anything more than the newspaper.
I contrast this to my good friend’s household, where the 10 children sat around the very large dinner table with their parents and talked about books and ideas each night. I was almost afraid to eat with them for fear I would be asked to say something intelligent. This family helped start the early-morning French class I was able to attend in the 6th grade. To this day those children all know a lot about everything and have imparted much of that to the next generation.
In school I can remember only a couple of teachers who went out of their way to go beyond the textbooks and the standard curriculum. My 6th grade teacher introduced us to a variety of classical music, which we listened to for a few minutes each morning. My 8th grade teacher maintained a lending library of classics in the classroom. She also had us do monthly “research” of famous people born in that month, often memorizing famous lines if they were poets or writers. Other than that textbooks and library books were the main sources of my literacy.
I found this site as I was Googling “cultural literacy” last night. Be forewarned: Taking the tests becomes addictive. I was appalled to get scores in the 80’s in the first 3 I tried, all subjects I’m supposed to know something about. I can’t imagine how badly I would do on the history tests.
So we might ask Hirsch WHY every American needs to know any of these things? Such knowledge obviously does not make that person a better person. It doesn’t teach ethics. It doesn’t end war or famine.
It simply fills our minds with a richer mix of information that might make it easier to understand what’s going on in our country and in the broader world. It allows us to make mental connections when we hear a name or a place or a quote.
I wonder if “cultural literacy” is still being talked about by educators as we try to improve our standing in the world of education. No one mentioned it in “Waiting for Superman”, the current film about the sad state of education in our country.
Any thoughts on cultural literacy?