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Hirsch Defends Cultural-Literacy List

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E.D. Hirsch Jr., a professor of English at the University of Virginia, last week defended a list of nearly 5,000 items that he claims represent the knowledge base shared by literate Americans.

Mr. Hirsch included the list in his book published this month, Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know. (See Education Week, April 1, 1987.)

To assess the list's validity, he mailed a multiple-choice test based on it to 600 lawyers--"on the assumption that lawyers are literate.'' The more than 300 lawyers who returned the test received an average score of 92 out of 100.

Mr. Hirsch said the results confirm that "literate people do know these things.''

At a conference of the Education Writers Association in San Francisco this month, he also released a list that he facetiously titled "What Every American Does Not Need To Know.''

Printed below, the list includes all of the authors and "skills features'' in three popular school readers for grades 6, 11, and 12.

Mr. Hirsch said he compiled the list to demonstrate that educators are making judgments about content, based on lists that are inadequate and not widely known.

"It's a very long list and a very fragmented list from school to school,'' he said. "And to pretend that it doesn't exist is really incorrect. We ought to make it better.''

Mr. Hirsch says he does not mean to disparage any particular item on the list, as much as the lack of coherence and systematic thought given to the list as a whole.

The number after some authors' names indicates at least two of their works were included in the books.

In particular, Mr. Hirsch complained, neither Shakespeare nor the Greek myths appeared anywhere in the three texts. LO

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