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on 11 March 1999
Interesting insights into how people learn to read. Hirsch makes the case that reading is not just skill but requires some content to provide context and make reading more efficient (and enjoyable). Also intriquing is the idea of defining the reading context in terms of a national literacy. (A good way to appreciate these issues is to try to learn a foreign language enough to understand the media of a foreign country.)
The controversial stuff comes from the rejection of the Rousseau/Dewey teaching doctrine, and the proposal for a national standard for teaching content knowledge in primary and secondary school. Hirsch claims that it is teaching doctine, rather than parenting, that is behind the lack of literacy in American children. This was not so convincing as he cites data that indicate that children who spent more time studying do better at reading. It is clear that Hirsch is embroiled in quite an educator doctrine controversy.
In any case, the list at the end of the book was a hoot, and I was pleased to find that I knew what most things were and had at least heard of everything else. It would have been nice if the list could have come with reference information but then the book would have been several times larger (maybe someone should come up with a web site devoted to the list). Running down items in the list has been a lot of fun and I still look at the list from time to time when I feel the need to expand my cultural literacy.
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on 8 July 2016
Despite the fact that the book is written some 20 years ago I think every parent or teacher should have this book on their shelves. I personally feel that it does not matter that the book is geared towards the American reader, most of it is useful for all audiences. Well researched text documenting the decline of classical education rendering contemporary education deficient in some aspects of cultural literacy. Great book as it addresses why the author has come to this conclusion and how we as parents and educators may redress the balance.

I loved it and have already put into practice some of the recommendations of this book.
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on 17 May 1998
The mind can only hold a small number of items in short term memory. Thoughts must be compressed and routed into long term memory or forgotten. Some of the destinations and compression schemes are, for literate people, taken from the shared culture. This book is a dictonary of that shared cullture. This material should be on-line in some way. I wish the authors had e-mail.
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on 19 October 1998
As a future educator it is very important to familiarize oneself with various educational theories and this is one that definitely should be included one's repetoire. The concept of cultural literacy is very controversial in many ways, but it is well worth the discussion that it inspires. This book is bound to evoke a strong response from its readers.
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on 23 April 1999
Worth the read, some interesting ideas to chew on. Someone mentioned in a review about putting the stuff in the list online. Well, there is a book by the Hirsch called "The Dictionary of Cultural Literacy" which might be a nice compliment to any classroom, I have one in my 3rd grade class.
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on 15 August 1999
I read this book in 1995 and found it fundamentally correct with respect to two ideas: 1) that a core of knowledge is necessary to infer, read-between-the-lines, and to understand wholly much written material; 2) that *content* is vital in education - the mental organization of which (though association and other means) is essential to becoming educated. To demonstrate another assertion, namely that public education is largely failing, Hirsch claims that a majority of high school seniors can not correctly answer this question: "in what decades did the Civil War, World War I, and World War II occur?" I was 35 when I read this and asked it of a 25-year-old architect - who would not even attempt it.
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on 17 February 1999
Hirsch, in his Introduction, argues that a four-word Shakesperean quotation, "There is a tide" (from "Julius Caesar," meaning "Act now!") would be a more apt business communication than providing a business audience with "lots of examples" and "reasons" to support the argument that it's essential to take action. Therein lies the problem, as Hirsch prefers canonical, elitist allusion to real argument. Hirsch's list of 5,000 items "that every American needs to know" is a fascinating collection of information that--it's clear--Hirsch *himself* has learned over the years. Whether WE need to know--for example--that cutting the Gordion knot means to "solve any complex problem quickly" is clearly debatable. One can't study Hirsch's list without feeling as if he's entered a time warp, as contemporary culture is almost wholly slighted (as are women and minorities, not surprisingly). There are few, if any, computer terms, only a handful of sports items--in a culture dominated by sports--and a list of musical performers that ends chornologically with The Beatles. Hirsch readily admits that he's advocating a "hazy, superficial" understanding of the terms on his list, but that doesn't stop him from positing that a recognition of those same items makes one culturally literate (and thus educated). No matter that each of us would create a different list of items that we think Americans should know. As the old joke goes, learning the items on Hirsch's list allows you to talk about anything for five minutes and nothing for ten. Nevertheless, this is a seminal work for understanding the thinking of those who've uncritically accepted the failure of public schooling in America. And it makes watching "Jeopardy!" a lot more fun.
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on 24 April 1999
In his treatise on the (lowly) state of US public education, Hirsch seems to stop short of theorizing his hypothesis. In fact, he appears as guilty of short changing students as the institutions he decries. I do not fully comprehend his want of a national core cirricullum, or how such a method would result in a nation of better readers. It seems to me that diversity is more important than a single national web of knowledge. I understand that if his list of 5,000 facts contained even a sample of the item, this book would be too cumbersome for bookstores. What I don't understand is why Babe Ruth is on the list, and Hank Aaron is not. Did someone say "elitism"?
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on 31 March 1998
I thought it important to say that this books does not come from the same viewpoint as "Closing of American Mind" -- to which it is often compared. The ideas here deserve a read by anyone interested in education and especially by teachers.
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on 21 June 2016
I found this book very disappointing not least because the underlying principle -even if taken to an extreme here -is something I would already be reasonably persuaded about.
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