Critical Literacy
Challenging E. D. Hirsch, Jr. and the Cultural Literacy Movement


This is a web site created by students in the School of Education, University of Miami. It is based on a list of 5,000 words included by Eugene F. Provenzo, Jr. in his book, Critical Literacy: What Every American Ought to Know (Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers, 2006). Provenzo’s book is a detailed critique of E. D. Hirsch, Jr.’s work on Cultural Literacy. Hirsch, most well-known for his 1987 work Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know (Boston: Houghton-Mifflin), is the founder of the Core Knowledge Foundation, whose  purpose is to promote a traditional K-12 curriculum based on a canonical model of Western Culture.

Hirsch’s Cultural Literacy gained national attention largely as a result of his list of 5,000 things every American needs to know.

While not disagreeing with the importance of many of the items cited by Hirsch, Provenzo creates an alternative list of 5000 terms for Critical Literacy. In doing so, he  argues that there are many such lists which could be created, and that what is ultimately important is the dialogue and debate about what should be included in lists such as his and Hirsch’s, and in turn about what we should teach our children in the curriculum of our schools.  Provenzo is calling for a broader and more democratic model of culture than Hirsch’s, one which recognizes the inherent diversity found in contemporary American society.

This web site is based on the words included in Provenzo’s list of 5,000 words.  It provides links to relevant web sites on the Internet and World Web. In doing so, the students involved in this project are engaged in what the French hypertext theorist Pierre Levy refers to as a process of shared or “Collective Intelligence.” This process of Collective Intelligence assumes the creation of a new knowledge space—a space that is profoundly social, economic and political.

The nearly 5,000 links associated with Provenzo’s 5,000 words reflect the interests, viewpoints and insights of the students who collected them. They are fluid and changeable, as is the Internet and World Wide Web. They also represent the diversity of our global culture and of the knowledge system inherent in the Internet and World Wide Web. We believe they also represent a collective and dynamic challenge to the attitudes, assumptions and content underlying Hirsch’s work.

We feel this web site represents a counter-hegemonic act--one that challenges Hirsch and his follower’s fundamental beliefs. In doing so, it  attempts in the words of Pierre Levy, to “gradually create the technologies, sign systems, forms of social organization and regulation that enable us to think as a group, concentrate our intellectual and spiritual forces, and negotiate practical real-time solutions to the complex problems we must inevitably confront.”

The students who helped create the links included in this site were enrolled in various sections of TAL 101 (Social and Technological Foundations of Education), TAL 603 (The Teacher in American Society) and TAL 654 (Seminar in Literacy) at the University of Miami. The  TAL 101 classes were taught by Professors Eugene F. Provenzo, Jr. and Josh Diem. The TAL 603 and 654  classes were taught by Professor Provenzo. Special thanks go to Alison Schwarz who checked the final links and helped get this web site mounted in its current form.

Those interested in seeing a Power Point 2007 presentation contrasting Hirsch's 5,000 words with Provenzo's list of 5,000 words can click here and bring up this program, which is designed as an art installation to be projected or run on a kiosk. A slide with one of Hirsch's terms contrasted against one of Provenzo's terms will run every 4 seconds for approximately eight hours. At that point the program will loop and begin again.





Eugene F. Provenzo, Jr.
University of Miami
School of Educaton


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