Thursday, February 11, 2010

book ends book list: Cultural Literacy

6. (Yes, I am including books that I read for class in this list. It seems to me that if I spent time reading it, it should count, no matter what it is about.) In this case, book #6, Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know by E.D. Hirsch, Jr., was about one main thing: cultural literacy (imagine that). Cultural literacy is all the "stuff" that makes up our culture, or as Hirsch explains, "the basic information needed to thrive in the modern world"--from superman to Custer's last stand to Elvis to the idiom "the pen is mightier than the sword." The first 140 pages of this book deal with the "problem" in our society today, the decline of cultural literacy among young people. To be honest, I didn't agree with a lot of what Hirsch says in this book: I don't think it's as easy as having one list that every American is expected to know in order to succeed in our country. However, I do agree that many without this knowledge do have a much harder time succeeding. I'm not sure that this is exactly fair, but then again, what is?

My favorite part of this book is the last 100 pages or so, which is a full list of everything Hirsch thinks that we should know. Some of the stuff is ridiculously simple (Denver, CO, Jack and Jill, Star Wars), some is indeed important (D-day, Leonardo Da Vinci, I Have A Dream) and some of these things I have never heard of (fiddle while Rome burns, Jolly Roger, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty). If you ever see this book in a bookstore or a library it's worth looking at the list of 5,000 "essential" names, dates, phrases, and concepts just to judge a culturally literate you are. And to laugh that "penis envy" is actually included in the list.

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