When describing his views on schema theory, Hirsch cites as authorities Spiro, Collins, and Bransford. These researchers have done valuable work which demonstrates how heavily readers depend on background knowledge. The curious thing is that Hirsch cites their research as his evidence. These three authorities each find the concept of Cultural Literacy just as appalling as I do. And, as it happens, each has done research that Hirsch apparently never really understood.
It is worthwhile to look at the reading process for just a bit to see what the real issues are. The following is a typical article that I have taken from a recent Wall Street Journal:
Heart Surgery Battle in Michigan Is Struggle Over Cost, Care, Profit
Firms, Unions Join to Block Expansion That Hospital Needs for Its Own Health
Safety Is Part of Fight, Too
There are 28 open-heart surgery programs at hospitals in Michigan. Joseph Damore wants to have number 29.
The chief executive of Sparrow Hospital here is building the kind of full-service health-care organization he believes will be needed to compete in the era of managed competition. Open-heart surgery is the capstone of his strategy.
But his dream has collided head-on with an extraordinary campaign waged by Michigan's most powerful economic interests--including both the auto makers and their unions. When it comes to open-heart centers, these opponents insist, more is not better, just costlier and riskier.
So determined is the opposition that John F. Smith, Jr., General Motor's Corp.'s chief executive, told a surprised Gov. John Engler in their very first meeting last fall that one of GM's top priorities was blocking new heart-surgery units. Other top corporate officials and union leaders flooded hospital executives across the state with letters, phone calls and visits to protest plans for new programs.
Let's consider what a reader needs to know to understand this story, asking ourselves how relevant a literacy list might be in helping a reader attain that knowledge. Recall the eight key reading processes. To read a story like this, what does one need to know to perform each process? Let's take a look at some examples:
• Make simple inferences
1) people pursue dreams because they think they will accomplish things that they hold to be valuable
2) executives of big companies are interested in keeping health costs down
• Establish causal connections
1) GM wants to block new health care units because health care is too expensive
2) Sparrow Hospital wants new units because it wants to make money
• Recognize stereotyped situations
1) More medical care requires taxpayers to pay more taxes
2) The governor of a state wants better health care for his citizens so he can get more votes.
• Predict and generate plans
1) Sparrow Hospital will sue GM.
2) The governor will be afraid to go against GM.
• Track people's goals
1) The head of Sparrow wants his hospital to be more important and will find another way to do so if this one doesn't work.
2) GM wants to run things in the state of Michigan and will soon become active in other social issues.
• Recognize thematic relationships between individuals and society
1) The governor wants to appear to have done the right thing and make everyone happy.
2) The hospital wants to make people believe it is interested in people.
• Employ beliefs about the world in understanding
1) Hospitals usually care more about profits than patients.
2) GM cares more about profits than about patients.
• Access and utilize raw facts
1) GM is in Michigan and is very important to the governor of the state.
2) "What's good for General Bullmoose is good for the USA."
A reader that does not make these inferences, establish these connections, and son on, did not fully understand the story. Readers also get much more from the story than what we've listed out here, but the facts, beliefs, and general ideas we have listed show the kinds of knowledge which are critical for reading a story like the one above.
It's interesting to note that none of this knowledge would be found on any literacy list. Furthermore, this example is no different than any typical newspaper article. Hirsch has misunderstood the processes people use to communicate and the kind of knowledge they need to communicate successfully.
Hirsch's Reading Method
Where am I in the content of the book?