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What Every American Should Know

Creating a sense of 21st century cultural literacy

In 1987, E.D. Hirsch sparked a national debate with his book, Cultural Literacy. His claim was that there is a common foundation of knowledge that every American should know. Hirsch put forth that claim by providing a list of 5,000 facts and references in his book. This list was both celebrated and attacked for its inclusions and its omissions.

Decades later, the Aspen Institute Citizenship and American Identity Program is aiming to create a new, 21st century sense of cultural literacy for all Americans. Executive Director of the Citizenship and American Identity Program Eric Liu says now more than ever, a diversifying United States needs a shared base of knowledge. But a 21st century sense of civic literacy must be radically more inclusive than the list in Cultural Literacy.

A project of the Aspen Institute Citizenship & American Identity Program, the What Every American Should Know initiative asks: What do you think Americans should know to be civically and culturally literate? You are invited to share your top 10 list of what every American should know online at whateveryamericanshouldknow.org. Submissions are aggregated into a national list, which can also be viewed at the website.  

“In this age of economic and civic inequality, understanding what it means to be American has never been more important,” says Carrie Hopper, program associate at the Aspen Institute Citizenship and Identity Program. “That’s why the Aspen Institute Citizenship and American Identity Program created the initiative. We are crowdsourcing ideas from a wide range of Americans about what we all need to know to be aware, effective, and engaged citizens. The goal of our experiment is to counter pervasive fragmentation and polarization to sustain strong citizenship in America.”

Visit whateveryamericanshouldknow.org to submit your list and be a part of the national discussion. ■

What Every American Should Know: A Community Dialogue

Thursday, Sept. 22, 2016
6-8 pm
Join local thought-leaders for a community conversation moderated by John Ferrugia of Rocky Mountain PBS. Space is limited; registration required.
Click here to register.

Send your questions or feedback to ithink@anythinklibraries.org or post in the comments below.