Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know

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Vintage Books, 1988 - Education - 251 pages
4 Reviews
In this forceful manifesto, Hirsch argues that children in the U.S. are being deprived of the basic knowledge that would enable them to function in contemporary society. Includes 5,000 essential facts to know.
 

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User Review  - engpunk77 - LibraryThing

I'm going to read this out of curiosity; I remember learning about this in high school and I agreed with the premise then. I realized that I'd never have understood Z if I never knew X. I believe that ... Read full review

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User Review  - aevaughn - LibraryThing

This book should be utilized as a basis to restructure the curriculum of education at the elementary and middle school level within the US. It is clear that in general Americans lack the necessary knowledge to understand discourse on serious subjects in an easy manner. Read full review

Contents

94
NOTES
216

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About the author (1988)

Hirsch is a conservative critic best known for his repudiation of critical approaches to literature (chiefly poststructuralism and New Criticism) that assume that the author's intentions do not determine readings. He argues that any such methodology is guilty of "the organic fallacy," the belief that the text leads a life of its own. For Hirsch, the author's authority is the key to literary interpretation: The critic's job is to reproduce textual meaning by recovering the author's consciousness, which guarantees the validity of an interpretation. In his two most important books, Validity in Interpretation (1967) and its sequel, The Aims of Interpretation (1976), Hirsch warns against the "critical anarchy" that follows from the "cognitive atheism" of both relativism and subjectivism. For him, these result from a corollary of the organic fallacy, the thesis that meaning is ultimately indeterminate because it changes over time or with the differing interests and values of different readers. According to Hirsch, meaning does not change; only value or significance does, as readers relate a text's fixed meaning to their cultures. If there is more than one valid interpretation of a text, it is because literature may be reduced to more than one "intrinsic genre" or meaning type---the particular set of conventions governing ways of seeing and of making meaning at the time the author was writing. Many critics suggest that the intentions Hirsch recovers in intrinsic genres are really his own, rather than those of the author, because no one, including Hirsch, can escape his or her historically conditioned frame of reference when developing interpretations of literature. Hirsch's recent books, including Cultural Literacy (1987), are seen as proof of those flaws by those who are troubled by the history and values of the dominant culture that Hirsch insists is the only culture. Hirsch argues that "common knowledge" is being denied minority students and others by feminists and other "radicals" who have undermined the authority of its great texts.

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