Cultural Literacy Essay

Cheap Custom Writing Service

In the United States during the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, the notion of cultural literacy presupposes a common cultural ancestry, imagines a homogeneous cultural experience, and assumes a collective cultural legacy. Associated with a conservative social, economic, and political agenda, cultural literacy and related issues often carry partisan connotations. According to its conservative advocates, cultural literacy consists of “factual” information known to a majority of literate Americans. Challengers assert that the dominant culture determines the contents of the cultural canon.

Citing “universal” meaning, “common” knowledge, and historical intransigence as hallmarks of canonical worth, allies of the cultural literacy movement deem superfluous those cultural traditions seen as outside of the dominant culture. Thus, the Western cultural tradition arbitrates both the composition of the cultural canon and the debate over cultural literacy in the United States.

Appropriating the Western, culturally appraised values that inform meaning cultivates the ability to “read” the productions of the dominant culture. Under the auspices of equalizing the educational playing field, curricular perimeters and literary selections are often guided by notions of cultural literacy advanced by members of the dominant culture. According to patrons of the cultural literacy model, comprehension of a range of textual allusions must be qualified by a familiarity with fixed prior cultural knowledge. Minority perspectives and marginalized subjectivity detract from the singularity and power of Western cultural capital. Thus, mastery of this shared cultural knowledge is crucial to social communication, economic participation, and political representation.

The idea of cultural literacy has been most popularized by the University of Virginia Professor of English E. D. Hirsch, Jr. in his 1986 book Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know. In this work, as well as his numerous other publications, Hirsch has developed a widely used curriculum for K–12 schools based on the learning of essential or “core knowledge.” Hirsch’s views have been consistently criticized by people in the social foundations of education field for being elitist and antidemocratic.

Absent the rigors of critical inquiry, becoming culturally literate involves acceptance of received knowledge. To be considered culturally literate, one must possess a broad scope of superficial knowledge and understand referential allusions stated without definition or explanation within both classical texts and popular media. In order to participate and contribute to the marketplace of democratic American society, the emergent citizenry must be equipped with the cultural knowledge necessary to compete. Supporters of “core knowledge” curricula propose to elevate the perceived status and competency of subordinate cultures by insisting that public education impose the values of the dominant culture. Curricular standards established according to the ideals of cultural literacy presume the existence of a stable institution of knowledge, an invariable conception of democracy, a static definition of culture, and a narrow characterization of literacy.


  1. Bloom, H. (1994). The Western canon: The books and school of the ages. New York: Riverhead Books.
  2. Giroux, H., & McLaren, P. (1994). Between borders: Pedagogy and the politics of cultural studies. New York: Routledge.
  3. Hirsch, E. D. (1988). Cultural literacy: What every American needs to know. New York: Vintage Books.
  4. Provenzo, E. F., Jr. (2005). Critical literacy: What every American ought to know. Boulder, CO: Paradigm.

This example Cultural Literacy Essay is published for educational and informational purposes only. If you need a custom essay or research paper on this topic please use our writing services. offers reliable custom essay writing services that can help you to receive high grades and impress your professors with the quality of each essay or research paper you hand in.

See also:


Always on-time


100% Confidentiality

Special offer!