Hirsch's Method for Cultural Literacy

To be fair, Hirsch does not explicitly advocate that memorization is a good method for learning. He wishes that children be led to learn the facts of Cultural Literacy in an interesting way, telling us "Indeed, if traditional facts were to be presented unimaginatively or taught ignorantly or regarded as ends in themselves, we would have much to deplore ...."

However, it is clear that if it comes down to a choice between forcing children to memorize facts or allowing them to pursue their own interests with the risk that some facts will be missed, Hirsch will choose forced memorization. When it comes down to it, Hirsch just does not find forcing children to memorize lists to be distasteful:

"Our current distaste for memorization is more pious than realistic. At an early age when their memories are most retentive, children have an almost instinctive urge to learn specific tribal traditions. At that age they ... are eager to master the materials that authenticate their membership in adult society. Observe for example how they memorize the rather complex materials of football, baseball, and basketball, even without benefit of formal avenues by which that information is inculcated."

Pragmatically, Hirsch's opinion on the virtues of memorization is a moot point. Hirsch does not propose an alternative. And in the absence of an alternative, those educators who are forced to use Hirsch's list in the context of over-crowded fixed curriculum will inevitably turn to memorization.

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