Cultural literacy is the background knowledge
common to a society
that each person must possess to effectively communicate
with one another. According to Hirsch, "It is the background informartion, stored in their minds, that enable them to take up a newspaper
and read it with an adequate level of comprehension
, getting the point
, grasping the implications
, relating what they read to the unstated context
which alone gives meaning to what they read."
In his book, Cultural Literacy, What Every American Needs to Know
, Hirsch examines the state of today's society
and attributes the decline in the level of our children's education
to a lack of cultural literacy.
The United States
is ranked among the highest countries in reading skills
in the third grade
and below. Then as grade level increases the US rank falls farther from the top. It is at the third grade level that reading skills become an interpretive skill
rather than a mechanical one. Basically our children are not having a problem with sounding out words, they are not understanding what they are reading. Hirsch attributes this lack of comprehension
with a lack of cultural literacy among our students and thus proposes the introduction of basic cultural literacy at the pre-school level.
Many of Hirsch's opponents argue that the adoption of the cultural literacy curriculum will lead to a nation-wide mandatory
reading list and will limit children in their understanding of the cultures
around them and suggest multi-culturism
as an alternative.