The importance of cultural literacy and other musings.
As college students, we have the responsibility and the opportunity to cultivate ourselves culturally and educationally.
The concept of cultural literacy emerged in the late 1970’s and was shown as an important asset to education. Writers took certain cultural concepts for granted when writing curriculum. They would assume that students knew enough about cultural events and happenings both big and small. Once it was recognized that children needed to be taught culture as well as the basics of education, our educational system was changed based on the research of E.D. Hirsch Jr., whose book introduced the concept of cultural literacy to the masses.
Our generation has grown up in a post-cultural literacy movement. The movement shaped our curriculum throughout elementary, middle and high school and we have grown to reflect it. Curriculum teaches us about historical and cultural events instead of just assuming that we know about them. In the early days of this movement, the movement focused on students not knowing information about the civil war or other important elements of American culture. Today’s cultural literacy issues extend to media and current events.
The film industry contains many of today’s important cultural references. In my Intro to Public Speaking class, one woman gave a speech about fairy tale themes and referenced many popular films. If a person did not have a substantial level of cultural literacy, then that speech would make almost no sense.
Understanding that not everyone you are with will get the highly esteemed compliment when you tell them “Four for you Glen Coco, you go Glen Coco!” is not an easy concept. Mean Girls is a prevalent film in our generation’s culture and the Internet keeps it relevant through memes and “Mean Girls Day.” Which, in case you were wondering, is October 3rd, bonus points if it falls on a Wednesday, because then we can wear pink.
We make assumptions that the people we interact with come from and understand the same culture as we do. In a global sense, the people coming from the United States can afford to make that assumption because our largest export is culture.
Elements of culture can vary by region, but in a general sense, Americans must understand the intricacies of their culture, as trivial as they may seem. Since we make cultural assumptions about others, we can only accept that others will likewise make assumptions about the culture that we know. Therefore, it is our responsibility to educate ourselves about the culture in which we live. I would go one step further and challenge you to not only inform yourself about American culture, but learn more information about another region of the world’s culture as well.
Go watch silly movies, listen to dumb music, educate yourself so that when people say that Justin Beiber sounds like a 13 year old girl, you will know the celebrity to which they are referring. Watch old movies and listen to old music as well. Cultural literacy extends beyond just our generation. American culture is not merely shaped by the current controversy of Miley Cyrus’s twerking adventures or the musings of whoever’s creating the next Hunger Games movie, but rather, it is impacted by the generations before it.
In short, you are in college, you know how to learn, extend that to the culture that you live in as well. The classroom can only take you so far in the real world.