Term of Art: Cultural Literacy

“cultural literacy: Knowledge of the culture in which one lives–not only its vocabulary and idioms but also references to specific events, individuals, places, literature, myths, folk tales, advertising, and other ‘insider’ information that would be familiar to those who have lived in the culture but that would be unknown to those who have not lived in the culture. It is the unstated, taken-for-granted knowledge necessary for reading comprehension and effective schooling within a culture. The concept of cultural literacy was popularized by E.D. Hirsch Jr. in his best-selling book Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know. Critics claimed that it was elitist for anyone to attempt to define what everyone should know, but Hirsch contended that the teaching of cultural literacy was egalitarian because it had the result of breaking down social barriers and disseminating elite knowledge to everyone. Further, describing what constitutes cultural literacy within a given culture is an empirical, descriptive procedure, not a prescriptive one. The cultural literacy needed in Brazil or France of Thailand, for example, would be distinctive to those who live in that country. See also Core Knowledge (CK) program.”

 Excerpted from: Ravitch, Diane. EdSpeak: A Glossary of Education Terms, Phrases, Buzzwords, and Jargon. Alexandria, VA: ASCD, 2007.

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