the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. American independence
was declared by a free people who chose to establish a better government for
itself when its rulers became oppressive and who justified its actions before humanity. So too do culturally literate individuals evaluate their culture, offer different emphases and revisions, and give reasons for their choices. The concepts
of freedom and responsibility embodied in the Declaration of Independence are
thus preserved in cultural literacy. But like a people who accept the limits of law,
the authority of a Constitution, and a presumption in favor of precedent, culturally literate individuals recognize the place of tradition in forming individuals
and giving them an identity. The concepts of continuity and permanence indispensable to constitutional government are thus preserved in cultural literacy.
Indeed, the Declaration and the Constitution, and the political history of the
nation that developed under their guidance, occupy the core of the education of
culturally literate Americans. Highlighting such a core constitutes the kind of
choice that Hirsch hesitates to make. Such choices are essential to democratic
self-government. Only with such an understanding of cultural literacy can we
approach, as Hirsch wishes us to do, "the fundamental goals of the Founders at
the birth of the republic" ( CL, 145).
E. D. Hirsch Jr., Cultural Literacy ( Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1987),
and Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind( New York: Simon and Schuster, 1987). I will cite these works in parentheses in this chapter as CL and CAM, respectively,
followed by page numbers to these editions. For Hirsch's argument that American education has failed democracy, see, for example, Cultural Literacy, pp. xiii-xiv. Bloom's book
is subtitled "How Higher Education Has Failed Democracy and Impoverished Today's
Hirsch does not find the concerns he expressed in Cultural Literacy any less relevant
today. In his 1996 The Schools We Need ( Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1996), for example, Hirsch expresses many of the same concerns. This later book, he writes, "takes the earlier
one [ Cultural Literacy] as its foundation. . . . In recent years, further empirical evidence
has supported the basic correctness of the book's inferences" (12). Hirsch thus offers not
a "qualification of [his earlier] argument, but an extension of it"(14)
See, for example,
Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Discourse on the Sciences and Arts, in The
First and Second Discourses, edited by
Roger D. Masters, translated by
Roger D. Masters
Judith R. Masters ( New York: St. Martin's Press, 1964), 179.
Emile or On Education, translated by
Allan Bloom ( New York: Basic Books, 1979),
will be cited in parentheses as E, followed by page numbers to this edition.
Hirsch, The Schools We Need, 74. This book takes as its central theme, Hirsch
claims, what was "only adumbrated in Cultural Literacy -- the disastrous consequences of
educational naturalism," 15.
Rousseau's comprehensive view on education, of course, is more complex than this
quotation suggests. Consider not only The Government of Poland, translated by
( Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill Library of Liberal Arts, 1972), but also his prescrip-