What Every American Should Know

I remember when E. D. Hirsch published Cultural Literacy and the controversy sparked by his list of things he believed every American should know. His point (I won't reignite the debate) was that we must all be ready to move outside our comfort zones and work together to make progress.

If we view others' experiences as teaching moments, and if we walk in one another's shoes, we help create a shared experience that leads to a culture of tolerance and acceptance. And that starts with a willingness to be vulnerable and honest and to share values that are deeply important to us personally.

To bridge divides, we must give people a voice and sometimes listen to things that are hard to hear. What's great about the What Every American Should Know campaign is that there is a space for everyone to contribute. Like E. D. Hirsch, who compiled a list that was relevant to his time and experience, people from across America are voicing what is important to them and educating others on their issues. I suspect millennials are going to have different lists than baby boomers have; women's lists will be different from men's, and blue-collar workers' lists will be different from corporate executives' -- but they are all important, and we can all learn from one another.

I am a high school history teacher, a lawyer, a union leader, a Jewish lesbian, a rebbetzin, a football fan and a huge dog lover, to name a few. Creating a list of just 10 things I think every American should know was hard; there are plenty more items I could have included. But these are the things I think every American should be aware of and work to address if we are going to move forward together as a community, as a nation and as a human race that treats others with dignity and respect.

  1. More than half of American public school students live in poverty.
  2. Today 31 states are still spending less per pupil on public education than they were in 2007.
  3. High school graduation rates, NAEP scores and college enrollment are all at record highs.
  4. In 2014, 25 hedge fund managers together made more money than every kindergarten teacher in America combined.
  5. Forty-eight states spend less on higher education than they did in 2008.
  6. Americans owe1.4 trillion in student debt--and that number is growing fast.
  7. Workers represented by a union earn 14 percent more, on average, than their nonunion peers.
  8. Heath insurance out-of-pocket costs are growing seven times faster than wages.
  9. By 2018, 28 percent of the public workforce will be eligible to retire, and many state and local governments are not prepared, especially in areas like public safety and corrections.
  10. Every dollar paid out in pension benefits puts2.37 back into the economy.

This post is part of a blog series produced by the Huffington Post in partnership with the Aspen Institute Citizenship and American Identity Program. Their "What Every American Should Know" initiative crowdsources ideas from a wide range of Americans into top 10 lists about what all Americans should know in order to be aware, effective, and engaged citizens. The goal of this project is to spark creative conversation about who we are as a nation today -- and how we want to tell that story. To see all the posts in this series, click here.