“1861 to 1865…..wasn’t that around Columbus?” -1980s new story on E.D. Hirsch’s Cultural Literacy
When I first heard the reporter mention this time period, it sounded familiar to me but, I could not place what world event in the United States was occurring.  As soon as I heard the reporter mention President Lincoln, something in my mind clicked automatically and i had linked the time period immediately to the Civil War.  Now that I actually do think of it, it makes sense in relation to the 1900s.  Knowing World War I happened in the early decades of the 1900s I can create a timeline in my mind and see that the Civil War era was during 1861-1865 although the time period sounds like it is much more ancient that it sounds.  Maybe that was why the young lady stated that that was during the time of Columbus because 1861 sounds so far away from 2014, its actually one hundred and fifty three years ago which is easily lifetimes and generations ago!  However, from when the news report filming in the 1980s, 1861 was a little over a century before allowing the lady should have been able to orientation herself before she could have answered the question.  So it was a bit ridiculous to guess Columbus to have “discover” North America and for the United States to build itself up to that point within a hundred and twenty years.  I feel that it would be unfair to have someone tells a one term, period or phrase and have us regurgitate information which would be defined as being “culturally illiterate” without any points of reference that we can use to link information and give a knowledgeable answer.

The list of terms and phrases that were shown to us as a short test of our cultural literacy in the article “Are You Culturally Literate?” was a bit challenging for me to place.  Just how the author struggled, “I could place most but not all of them appropriately.” I only knew seven for sure and a rough understanding of about five others out of twenty one.  I do not think I have ever heard of some of the terms that were listed at all and the others that I vaguely knew about was only because I believe I have a pretty decent memory so I was able to bring up past school lessons.  I believe it would be extremely difficult for E.D. Hirsch to teach the meaning of these terms if they were to be given to school children in the same format as in the article.  I have not read Hirsch’s book but I imagine it having phrases upon phrases that are matched with an explanation, much like a dictionary.  Without having any way of relating terms and linking them to the big picture it would be very difficult to learn these terms and achieve “cultural literacy”.


In the Hirsch vs. Hirsch article, the author claimed that “he (Hirsch) has been developing lesson plans that have been adopted by schools all over the country, and the results are impressively substantive.”.  It would be really interesting to see what kind of lesson plans Hirsch had created with his students and how impressive the results were compared to the modern method of teaching.  It could be used as a way to back up Hirsch’s teaching of cultural literacy and may allow other schools to test out his methods. 


The link above was a video on the visual representation on the terms that can be seen in Hirsch’s book.  For those who are visual learners, it is much easier to be able to understand the terms in comparison to reading the terms and trying to relate those terms to a historic event.  The terms that were shown in the video appear to be more diverse and easier phrases than those that were shown in the article which were harder to understand in my opinion.


This small comic strip illustrates the difference in two generations.  It is related to E.D. Hirsch’s cultural literacy because even between two generations that are back-to-back, the terms that are said and used are very different and has to be updated for society to remain “culturally literate” although this strip can be seen to be not very serious.


In the end, I believe that Hirsch has a good intentions for Americans to be “culturally literate” but, it will be very difficult to actually teach the terms that define literacy for many reasons.  For example, some people have trouble learning by reading terms and matching them to an explanation, some of the terms are not seen or taught in modern day schooling, and the generation gaps can have a huge impact on what terms are used in modern society.  However, it would be interesting to seen how Hirsch’s schooling can effect cultural literacy in society because I believe that it is important to have a general knowledge on our culture such as the Civil War era.