Test How 'Culturally Literate' You Are

Daniel Lattier | March 11, 2016

Test How 'Culturally Literate' You Are

E.D. Hirsch, professor emeritus of education and humanities at the University of Virginia, has become famous for his advocacy of “cultural literacy.”

According to Hirsch, “To be culturally literate is to possess the basic information needed to thrive in the modern world.” He emphasized that a “shared, canonical knowledge is inherently necessary to a literate democracy,” and that, problematically, many Americans did not fully possess this knowledge. (In one experiment he conducted, his 17 and 18-year-old subjects didn’t know who Grant and Lee were—and those subjects went to school in Richmond, Virginia!)

At the back of his 1987 book entitled Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know, Hirsch provided a large list of the terms, references, and ideas that every educated American should be able to recognize and understand. Below, I have provided 50 items from this list. If pressed, how many could you define or briefly explain?

 

1. acrophobia

 

2. ad hoc

 

3. Baconian method

 

4. Battle of Stalingrad

 

5. College of Cardinals

 

6. comme il faut

 

7. De Gaulle, Charles

 

8. Doctor Livingstone, I presume?

 

9. ecumenism

 

10. Elysian Fields

 

11. fermentation

 

12. fringe benefit

 

13. Ganges River

 

14. Goebbels, Joseph

 

15. hedonism

 

16. Holy Roman Empire

 

17. in loco parentis

 

18. I came, I saw, I conquered.

 

19. Jacob and Esau

 

20. justification by faith

 

21. Khomeini, Ayatollah

 

22. Kitty Hawk

 

23. Lee, Robert E.

 

24. Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address

 

25. Madrid

 

26. montage

 

27. NAACP

 

28. nebula

 

29. Occam’s razor

 

30. OPEC

 

31. parabola

 

32. Pope, Alexander

 

33. realpolitik

 

34. Remember the Alamo!

 

35. Sacco-Vanzetti case

 

36. Stradivarius

 

37. Taj Mahal (image)

 

38. tilt at windmills

 

39. understatement

 

40. utilitarianism

 

41. Valley Forge

 

42. V-J Day

 

43. War of the Roses

 

44. Whitney, Eli

 

45. xenophobia

 

46. xylem

 

47. Yorktown, Battle of

 

48. You can’t have your cake and eat it too.

 

49. Zeitgeist

 

50. Zion, Mount



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