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P1070195In my last post, I shared that I’ve found myself forgetting seemingly basic things about government, science, history, literature (etc) that I learned years ago in school. A great reference source I appreciate is: The Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, What Every American Needs to Know by Hirsch, Kett, Trefil. It is divided into sections by major areas of knowledge – such as literature, proverbs, idioms, the Bible, history, fine arts, mythology, science, technology, geography, politics, and economics.

Note that the title is dictionary, not encyclopedia, so the entries are brief and not exhaustive. Often I just need a reminder or review of the matter, and this is a helpful source. Sometimes I skim through a section for fun! haha. I come from a family where we got the World Almanac every year for Christmas, and to sit reading the Almanac was a completely normal activity. (Anyone else?)  Unfortunately, I do not have the near photographic memory of 2 other members of my family, and my knowledge seems to slip away.

I suppose in our “google it” age that a reference source such as this might be seen as unnecessary. Yet, I still like the printed page and I think there is still a place for it. It is handy having a book that contains a grouping of information. It can at least be a starting place, and then you could go to google to do more research. However, there is also evidence that all this googling is negatively affecting (or changing for both good and bad) our memories.

But I also appreciate the concerns or philosophy behind this unique dictionary. The authors had specific concerns about the state of American literacy and education. Being able to read words on a page does not mean that you can comprehend what is being communicated by those words.

Successful reading also requires a background knowledge of shared, taken-for-granted information in a society. A society has a “collective memory” of the past that influences it today.

The authors feel that our schools are failing to properly teach this background knowledge to students and this is responsible, at least in part, for our falling literacy rates and education levels. Maybe students can read, but not well and not with in-depth comprehension because they lack the general background knowledge to do so. This also affects learning, as reading ability and learning ability are closely allied. Thus the idea for this dictionary was born – with 23 chapters on every major area of knowledge.

Next post I’ll share an excerpt from this dictionary about biblical knowledge…