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Cultural literacy

A body of knowledge that is common and essential to the functioning of a people related by language, geography and social customs. A term first used by educator E. D. Hirsch, Jr., in his book of the same name, cultural literacy has been defined variously as the knowledge each person needs both to communicate easily with others and to function independently in his society. Critics such as Hirsch and educator ERNEST L. BOYER claim that American public schools are failing to make their students culturally literate. The basis of cultural literacy, say these critics, lies in reading, writing, speaking, listening and computation skills, acquired through a core of common learning from courses in literature, the arts, foreign languages, history, civics, science, mathematics, technology and health.
Literature, wrote Boyer, provides a “perspective on historical events, telling us what matters and what has mattered to people in the past. Literature transmits from generation to generation enduring spiritual and ethical values.” The arts—music, dance and the visual arts—“transmit the heritage of a people. . . . It is no accident that dictators, who seek to control the minds and hearts of men, suppress not just the written and spoken word, but music, dance and the visual arts as well.”
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