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Comment: This book has already been loved by someone else. It MIGHT have some wear and tear on the edges, have some markings in it, or be an ex-library book. Over-all it's still a good book at a great price! (if it is supposed to contain a CD or access code, that may be missing)
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Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know Paperback – April 12, 1988

4 out of 5 stars 75 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


Fascinating reading, particularly when we bear in mind thatit 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 --This text refers to the MP3 CD edition.

From the Inside Flap

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.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; 1st Vintage Books ed edition (April 12, 1988)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0394758439
  • ISBN-13: 978-0394758435
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (75 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #49,217 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
First off I think some reviewers are giving people the wrong idea of what this book has to offer. I think they meant to review the Dictionary of Cultural Literacy and not this book. After reading some of their reviews I purchased this book and it is not exactly what they led me to believe it was.

This book is made up of essentially two parts. The first part Hirsch put forth his theory that Americans are losing their ability to communicate effectively because they are lacking a common knowledge on certain core items. He sites back when people had a more standard education and were forced to read more because of a lack of television they were more commonly grounded in the same types of information.

To explain this theory simply he illustrates giving directions in a city when people assume you are a native to that city. The directions are simple because it is assumed one is familiar with certain landmarks (core knowledge). When giving directions to someone the believe to be a tourist, the directions get a lot more detailed because these people presumably lack the same knowledge of landmarks (core knowledge).

It is a very interesting theory and he backs it up with a lot of research. This book would be of great interest to anyone that is an educator by profession. It might be a little boring to anyone else. Some people have commented that this is a very conservative or right-leaning book. I really don't see that at all. He looks at this theory from the perspective of other cultures as well and the theory holds up. He does say that things people need to know to be culturally literate are often based on Western culture. This is true for the most part. He should not be vilified for pointing out the obvious.
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Format: Paperback
Put this on your To-Read-No-Matter-What list.
Hasn't the popularity of "Dummies" books raised a red flag anywhere? What does that say about the average American reader's view of him/herself? Do we sense that we're educationally lacking?
Too many of America's young people do not have, because they haven't been taught, the knowledge they need to preserve the exceptional way of life they've inherited. They know Harry Potter and West Wing but not the Peloponnesian Wars or who said, "To be or not to be." They are culturally illiterate.
Cultural literacy is the background information we need to know in order to understand and to communicate in our society. Without it we wouldn't understand what a reviewer says when he likens Julia Roberts in "Pretty Woman" to "Cinderella" or when a pundit says the environment is a politician's Achilles heel.
"To be culturally literate," Hirsch says, "is to possess the basic information needed to thrive in the modern world." Readers must understand the writer's unspoken "systems of associations."
I've taught college-level writing classes and have been astounded to meet students who have never read a book, who don't understand the simplest references to classical literature and who, frankly, don't care.
This ignorance threatens our very existence as a free nation. One of the most important points Hirsch makes is the need for the average citizen to understand enough science to comprehend debates about environmental and political issues. He cites the debate over the Strategic Defense Initiative and says of the voting public, "...
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Format: Paperback
A great irony, while reading several of the negative criticisms of Hirsch's controversial position, occurs when one considers that these critics would simply be unable to attack without being the embodiment of Hirsch's central postion: that reaching the higher levels of Bloom's taxonomy requires a set body of knowledge. Analyzing, synthesizing and evaluating information is literally impossible without first knowing, comprehending and applying.
A fine example is in the medical profession where the first year focuses narrowly on the rote memorization of the body. Without a set knowledge (knowing) of anatomy and the related maladies it is impossible to make effective diagnosis (analyzing, synthesizing, evaluating).
As an educator I have experienced first hand the industry driven mandate to produce a more effective group of critical and creative thinkers. In the process we have tragically discovered that such an endeavor is impossible without first teaching content. The kernal of Hirsch's position is that critical and creative thinking are absolutely intertwined with specific content. We as educators, parents and members of society are cheating our children and our futures if we fail to mutually and communaly provide a central frame of reference (or schema). Without such a frame of reference, contribution to and therefore extension of our culture will become but a distant memory.
We have been asked to focus upon the process of guess and go and the cult of the "How did you arrive at that solution?" over the precise "what are we putting into their heads". This is of course saying nothing of the cult of the self esteem. The result? I have seen the result as manifested in declining test scores, a rise of self absorbtion and an ever narrowing of world awareness.
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