In 1987, E.D. Hirsch sparked a national debate with his book Cultural Literacy, claiming that there is a foundation of common knowledge every American should know — and codifying it in a list of 5,000 facts and cultural references. Hirsch’s list was attacked, celebrated, and much discussed. Today, amidst giant demographic and social shifts, the United States needs such common knowledge more than ever. But a 21st century sense of cultural literacy has to be radically more diverse and inclusive. And it needs to come not from one person but from all of us. So, we ask: What do you think Americans should know to be civically and culturally literate? Give us your top ten!
Information about our national library series
Essay by Aaron Hatley
Now, more than ever, a diversifying United States needs a shared base of knowledge. That’s according to Eric Liu, executive director of the Citizenship and American Identity Program at the Aspen Institute. He’s calling on the American public and cultural leaders to build a crowd-sourced national list of facts and references every American should know. In this “Extra” episode, he talks to David Henry Hwang, Tony-winning American playwright, screenwriter, and opera librettist. He is the child of Chinese immigrants and shares how, growing up, he used television as one way to integrate into American society.
"What Every American Should Know” (WE-ASK) is a project of the Aspen Institute Citizenship & American Identity Program, and grew out of an essay by executive director Eric Liu. The Program was created in 2014 to explore how, in an age of increasing diversity and widening inequality, this country can cultivate a sense of shared destiny and common civic purpose. Learn more here.