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Joseph F. Kett

Autor(a) de The Dictionary of Cultural Literacy

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Includes the name: Joseph Kett

Obras por Joseph F. Kett

Associated Works

Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know (1987) — Contribuidor — 1,754 exemplares


Conhecimento Comum



“Dictionary of Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know” by E. D. Hirsch, Jr.; Joseph F Kett, James Trefil

*Print: COPYRIGHT: 1988; ISBN 0395437482; PUBLISHER: Houghton Mifflin Company; PAGES: 586; Unabridged (Hardcover info from hardcover print copy.)
-Digital: COPYRIGHT: 7/2006; PUBLISHER: Harper-Collins eBooks; ISBN 9780061760907; PAGES 400; Unabridged (Kindle edition info from and Libby app version from LAPL)
-Audio: COPYRIGHT: 1/20/2005; PUBLISHER: Books in Motion; DURATION: 6:16:00; Unabridged (Audio info from
-Feature Film or tv: No


-SELECTED: I saw this at the Newport Beach Public Library used book sale, and was thrilled to think I might get to learn what every American should know about The Bible; Mythology and Folklore; Proverbs; Idioms World Literature, Philosophy, Religion; Literature in English; Conventions of Written English; Fine Arts; World History to 1550; World History since 1550; American History to 1865; American History since 1865; World Politics; World Geography; Anthropology, Psychology, and Sociology; Business and Economics; Physical Sciences and Mathematics; Earth Sciences; Life Sciences; Medicine and Health; & Technology. Of course, for me, being exposed to, and retaining all that information is not the same thing.
-ABOUT: The book contains approximately 5,000 terms related to the above topics.
-OVERALL: It was a bit dry reading, so hard to get more than a few pages read at one time, but it was fun. Since this version is 1988 though, it’s out of date. It would be useful if writing a historical fiction book to be reminded that a CRT (cathode ray tube) was in your television and computer monitors. Some day maybe I’ll read a current one, but since it took more that a couple of years to get through this one, that won’t be any time soon….maybe the audio version would go faster.

E. D. Hirsch, Jr.: (Excerpt from Wikipedia)
“Eric "E. D." Donald Hirsch Jr. /hɜːrʃ/ (born March 22 1928) is an American educator, literary critic, and theorist of education.[1] He is professor emeritus of humanities at the University of Virginia.[HirschPublications 1]
Hirsch is best known for his 1987 book Cultural Literacy, which was a national best-seller and a catalyst for the standards movement in American education.[2] Cultural Literacy included a list of approximately 5,000 "names, phrases, dates, and concepts every American should know" in order to be "culturally literate."[3][4] Hirsch's arguments for cultural literacy and the contents of the list were controversial and widely debated in the late 1980s and early '90s.[5]
Hirsch is the founder and chairman of the non-profit Core Knowledge Foundation, which publishes and periodically updates the Core Knowledge Sequence, a set of unusually detailed curriculum guidelines for Pre-K through 8th grade.
In 1991, Hirsch and the Core Knowledge Foundation put out What Your First Grader Needs to Know, the first volume in what is popularly known as "the Core Knowledge Series."[6] Additional volumes followed, as did revised editions. The series now begins with What Your Preschooler Needs to Know and ends with What Your Sixth Grader Needs to Know. The "series" books are based on the curriculum guidelines in the Core Knowledge Sequence. The books are used in Core Knowledge schools and other elementary schools. However, they have also been popular with homeschooling parents.
Before turning to education, Hirsch wrote on English literature and theory of interpretation (hermeneutics). His book Validity in Interpretation (1967) is considered an important contribution to hermeneutics.[7] In it, Hirsch argues for intentionalism—the idea that the reader's goal should be to recover the author's meaning.[8][9]”

Joseph F Kett: (Excerpt from Wikitia)
"Joseph F. Kett (born March 11, 1938) is an American historian."
"Kett completed his bachelor's degree in history at Holy Cross University in 1959; his masters degree in history at Harvard University in 1960; and his PhD in history at Harvard University in 1964.[1]"
"He is the James Madison professor emeritus of history at the Corcoran Department of History of the University of Virginia.[1]"

James Trefil: (Excerpt from Wikipedia)
“James Stanley Trefil (born September 10, 1938) is an American physicist (Ph.D. in physics at Stanford University in 1966) and author of nearly fifty books. Much of his published work focuses on science for the general audience. He has served as Professor of Physics at the University of Virginia and, since 1988, as Robinson Professor of Physics at George Mason University. Among his books is Are We Unique?, an argument for human uniqueness in which he questions the comparisons between human intelligence and artificial intelligence. Trefil has also given presentations to judges and public officials about the intersections between science and the law.”

Nonfiction; Dictionary

United States; Civilization; Dictionaries; English Language

Contemporary (1988)


EXCERPT: “The Theory Behind the Dictionary”
"The conceptions that underlie this dictionary are outlined in my book Cultural Literacy, published in 1987. But in fact, the dictionary project was begun before I thought of writing a separate book, and the book itself was first conceived merely as a technical explanation of the ideas that led us to undertake the dictionary. The scope of the book outgrew that aim, but no one even considered the possibility that the book would become a a best-seller or that it would be read outside the field of education. Although it did become a best-seller and its ideas have been widely discussed, many users of this dictionary may not be familiar with the concept of cultural literacy. So here, in brief compass, is why this project was undertaken, and why we hope it will help improve American public education and public discourse.
One good way of explaining the cultural literacy project might well be to list the points of strong agreement that have appeared in reviews of the book and in the hundreds of letters I have received from teachers and nonteachers alike. All these reviews and letters endorse the proposition that achieving high universal literacy out to be a primary focus of educational reform in this country. They all accept the evidence that our national literacy had been declining since 1965, not only among disadvantaged children but also among our top students. They agree that the decline has occurred at a time when truly functional literacy is becoming ever more important to our economic well-being. And they have usually stressed the idea that providing everyone with a high level of literacy is important in holding together the social fabric of the nation.”

5 stars

10/3/2021 to 2/10/2024
… (mais)
TraSea | 4 outras críticas | Apr 29, 2024 |
Where do I start? I Tweeted this book should have been titled: The Enduring Revision! And that was just after the second chapter. The book is a college textbook of American history, covering primarily the continent from 16th century to the year 1877. This book contains more eye-rolls per page than a politician’s stump speech. Supposedly, as the back cover attests, this Seventh Edition has been “revised line-by-line to create a sharper narrative” despite already being “[k]nown for its focus on the environment and the land.”

I quickly reached a point in the book where I wanted to vomit next time I read the word elite. Their Seventh Edition must have been updated to include more class warfare! Somehow, the wealthy and ruling class miraculously managed to avoid most – if not all – of the travesties encountered by the poor, down-trodden underclass. From the Virginia Company colonists to the Founding Fathers to the textile mills of Lowell, Massachusetts, the rich were immune to natural problems like poverty, illness, and harsh environments. In fact, the very lacking index lists at least six pages that include “Elites” as a major point.
Since I will refrain from nit-picking almost something from every page, I will just make a few observations.

Chapter 1 quickly summarizes the continents of North and South America prior to the 16th century. The suspected travel of aboriginal people is used to illustrate how different and distinct cultures set up shop in vastly different areas. However, to effectively pit “them against us,” the entirety of Native Americans are treated as one homogenous group; slight variations are inconsequential when the benevolence of societies and nations are compared to Western Europeans who mercilessly floated across the Atlantic looking to enslave and proselytize.

The original inhabitants couldn’t get away from the author’s near epithet of elite! Writing of non farming peoples, as late as C.E. 1 (AD for those not politically correct), “[t]rade and warfare with interior groups strengthened the wealth and power of chiefs and other elites.” Even though this notation lends proof that power hunger is human nature, we are to believe it is just a white man’s disease.

Another reflection of human nature we are to avoid instilling in our idea of native peoples is imperialism. Writing of the Aztecs on page 8, it is documented that “they collected taxes” from those living as far away from the capitol as one-hundred miles away. Gasp, the Aztec also collected tribute from “[c]onquered peoples farther away… which replaced the free exchange of goods formerly carried on with neighbors.”

For time immemorial and in all ways, the Indians far exceeded the Europeans in green thumbery. Many of the plains Indians relocated to the Midwest around C.E. 1200 after “densely concentrated societies had taxed a fragile environment with a fluctuation climate.” “Woodland peoples’” were much better, not because of a potentially more stable climate, but their “land management was environmentally sound and economically productive.” When the men “occasionally lost control of a fire” utilized to clear underbrush from forests, hunting grounds were no longer suitable for game so they had women plant gardens in their stead. Unlike a forest fire of today, which destroys the land forever, “[g]round cover eventually” allowed the Indians to return by “restoring fertility naturally.”

We always hear of how many Native Americans the European killed over the time of colonization, billions if tallied up the toll from both continents from the first encounter. Like an Olympic gymnast, the authors bend over backwards to present a flawless people pre-European bringing their boom-boom sticks and small pox. Explaining the practices of some plains inhabitants, the ubiquitous bison was a literal “cash cow” or gift horse; the entire animal supplied humans with necessities. To collect these bison, they were driven off cliffs and retrieved from the gully to be processed. As they do offer a small caveat, the authors make note that in the absence of preserving more meat than could be consumed in a timely manner, this practice was “especially wasteful.” Have no fear; the flexible authors stick the landing! One sentence before admitting no records exist which enumerates the bison aside from “amazed” Europeans, the qualifying factor lessens impact upon the Indian’s reputation. Indiscriminately running bison off a cliff to kill many in one running, it had virtually no impact. “Yet humans were so few in number that they had no significant impact on the bison population before the arrival of Europeans.”

On the “eve of European contact” the authors point out of the 75 million Western Hemisphere inhabitants. By 1500 “[b]etween 7 million to 10 million Indians were unevenly distributed across North America.” The famous slaughter of bison by steel horse riding Americans occurs later than this book covers, but over centuries a larger number of Native Americans couldn’t do more damage than a comparatively smaller number of gun-toting tourists did in a few years. Emotions are stroke by visual messages, while we have no pictures of heaping bison carcasses at the foot of a coulee after an Indian’s harvest, we have ear-to-ear grinning Eastern seaboard Yankee standing in front of a mountain of bison hides.

To conclude my critique of just Chapter 1, from page 14, the native peoples are summed up: “Despite the vast differences among Native American societies, all were based on kinship, reciprocity, and communal ownership of resources. Trade facilitated the exchange not only of goods but also of technologies and ideas.” I suppose it is our spinning of history which paints the arrow-slinging and horse riding warrior in an effort to minimize them to savages. The book downplays violence as if sporadic and inconsequential by claiming “Native American warfare generally remained minimal.” Natives didn’t want to “conquer land” or “inflict massive casualties” but in a lighthearted rivalry, war games were merely to “humiliate one another and seize captives.”

Perhaps these “captives” were to be used in peace brokerage and not harmed in any way. Citing some nameless “New England officer” who described witnessing a battle he thought it to be more of a pastime, in his opinion they had no intention to “conquer or subdue enemies.” “He concluded that ‘they might fight for seven years and not kill seven men’.” Just like a European football match, a simple rivalry might end in a hooligan accidentally fatally injuring another spectator in after-game frivolities; these war games were inconsequential for the natives!

One has to wonder what a “significant minority” constitutes as the authors note on page 154. This apparent influential non-majority of note either disagreed with or was ambivalent towards the Declaration of Independence. Supposedly the signers of the Declaration and their supporters were an insignificant majority? The elite were depicted throughout the book as a cabal of as few all-powerful men. For instance they played the timeless 'inheritance card': “Except for Benjamin Franklin and a few others, most wealthy colonists inherited their fortunes.” It goes on to lament the working man’s case whose “personal success was limited and came through hard work, if at all.” (pg 99)

So on one hand the die is set as a small handful of wealthy white men declared their independence from Britain; while this small band of wealth hoarders encouraged gullible saps to back them? This however doesn’t make sense. Only five pages later, in a sub-heading of chapter four (pg 104) labeled “The Rise of Colonial Elites”, it is stated that a “few colonists benefited disproportionately from the growing wealth of Britain and its colonies.” (pg 104)

The word elite wasn’t married to the term “significant minority,” so I assume the wealthy Tories were not a part of the underwhelming mass opposed to the Declaration; therefore, using the author’s classification for groups in the non-elite majority, artisans, laborers, women, free and enslaved blacks, and other poor with boot prints scuffed onto their necks were for the Declaration? Now that I am utterly confused, parsing their logic and terminology, it would appear the minority of elites created a majority hoping to free America from the monarchy which made them wealthy. These elites swayed enough of the artisan class into agreeing to no longer be subjects of the British like cunning Pied Pipers, but successfully left the poor unaware that they were pawns in a elite versus elite war of independence?

On page 97 the authors take advantage of a quote, painting Mr. Franklin as a xenophobic miser. Lamenting over his concern that “so numerous” were immigrants in Pennsylvania that they would “Germanize us instead of us Anglicizing them,” the authors quip that it was “the same ungenerous spirit” that caused him to object to the slave trade. They finish this notation on Benjamin Franklin’s life by flatly stating he “suggested that the colonists send rattlesnakes to Britain in return for its convict laborers.” His piece was spoken of here as straight forward, as serious. Its message was deftly tied to his labor stealing rejection and slavery as equatable. Recognizing my lack of a Ph.D., I may be off-base and have misunderstood Benjamin Franklin’s commentary Rattle-snakes for Felons, but I thought it to be tongue-in-cheek.

Thankfully, aware this book is geared towards students, the authors made an effort to point out one “tongue-in-cheek” story. Citing an effort to increase Sacramento Valley’s economic development, the improbability “of a 250-year-old man” only finally succumbing to death only by leaving the prosperity of the valley needs to be apparently clarified. Juxtaposing this notation with my previously mentioned Ben Franklin example, and he comes off dour and serious, when the author of Poor Richard’s Almanack and numerous irreverent yet poignant letters and editorials was anything but.

Everything in America’s past is open to derision and disgust; therefore, it was no surprise to read their constant slam of American free-market system throughout the book. No better example can be found on page 410, during coverage of the gold rush. “Yet rampant prejudice against the Chinese did not stop some American businessmen from hiring them as contract workers for the American mining combinations that were forming in the 1850s.” It is undeniable that Americans (past and present) can hold prejudices and conduct business with exclusionary motives in mind. But what better time to show that free association and an open-market system can overcome personal beliefs?

On its face, the mention of what factory workers faced on page 387, sounds debilitating. “In an age when a horse cost the average worker three months’ pay…, the idea of solving industrial problems by resettling workers on farms seemed like a pipe dream.” Reflecting on this snippet of immigration and land reform coverage in the 1840s, it is amazing that America lasted past the Civil War! Stopping to ponder the significance of the cost of a horse, in modern comparison, things haven’t changed much. Having no urge to relocate to the countryside, a more apt analogy for me would be a used car. For most Americans, a $7,000 to $10,000 used automobile would be about three months’ salary; however, without getting into specifics, immigrant settlers probably didn’t have GMAC and 60-month terms.

My final contention with this book (that I will write about here) is the lack of references. Perhaps, in an effort to economize for “price-conscious students” (back cover) or save trees, there are two major shortcomings. First, the book neglects to contain a list of references. I understand this is a textbook and it needs to convey an air of authority, but we are students and facilitating an investigative spirit seems important. Providing other materials to read or evaluate, I believe would be nice. Save for the occasional title of an important document or influential book in America’s history, there are no citations to quotes.

Secondly, and most importantly, the index is poorly constructed. For a prime example, the book spends a large amount of pages on the development of political parties after the First Congress. The Federalists and Republicans are discussed at length and major party ideologies are dissected. There is even a sub-section in Chapter 7 labeled “The Republican Party, 1794-1796”. Carried into Chapter 8, beginning with Thomas Jefferson’s presidency, the political disagreements are further evaluated and Republican values are heavily mentioned. Yet perusing the index, the term “Republican” has two references on as many pages prior to the years of the Civil War which has ten references over 18 pages. Feminism has an index entry, as if it was a contemporary term at the time.

All of these ideas were my own observations and loathing while reading this book. But as I read Gordon S. Wood’s, The Purpose of the Past, an anthology of his magazine-length critiques of history books, did his book bridge my suspicions to the impetus behind the textbook and its execution. Frustrated with the political correctness, relativism, and anachronism of Boyer's and company's relating of America's history up to 1877, I began writing this review. It is unfortunate that such disdain for America’s history is evident through the book as it is repackaged for students. Tailoring the events of our past to fit current attempts to discredit what makes us better than other civilizations throughout history, only belittles the advances our culture has attained.
… (mais)
HistReader | 1 outra crítica | Aug 18, 2012 |
Bought this book 20 years ago, and still refer to it. I believe they have updated editions now.
BooksForDinner | 4 outras críticas | Oct 3, 2011 |
Text for American History and Goverment (HIS201). Sophomore - required course.
Hazel66 | 1 outra crítica | Jun 18, 2011 |


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