Goals of Cultural Literacy

Perhaps the best way to describe the goals that motivate the Cultural Literacy movement is to quote Hirsch as he describes them himself. This series of quotes, drawn from Hirsch's book, Cultural Literacy, lays out the major purposes of the effort:

• "In an anthropological perspective (the name which Hirsch chooses for the Cultural Literacy point of view), the basic goal of education is acculturation, the transmission to our children of the specific information shared by the adults of the group or polis."

• "... literate culture has become the common currency for social and economic exchange in our democracy, and is the only available ticket to full citizenship.... Membership is automatic if one learns the background information and the linguistic conventions that are needed to read, write, and speak effectively."

• "Cultural literacy constitutes the only sure avenue of opportunity for disadvantaged children."

• "The achievement of high universal literacy is the key to all other fundamental improvements in American education."

• "Mature literacy alone enables the tower to be built, the business to be well managed, and the airplane to fly without crashing."

Most of the goals underlying these statements are laudable. But can Cultural Literacy achieve them? Hirsch believes that by dint of pursuing cultural literacy, which is really nothing more than the accumulation of a large set of specific, fixed facts, we can satisfy the basic goal of education, create better citizens, help the disadvantaged, further all other "fundamental" improvements to the education system, and, as the last quote indicates, do just about anything else that modern society might require of us as well.

Next Story Flaws in Hirsch's Program

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