Are we faking cultural literacy?

Anna Maria Tremonti, tech, Jun 03, 2014
Commentary by Stephen Downes

I listened to this interesting segment on CBC Radio this morning while receiving dental treatment. It featured Alexandra Samuel from Vision Critical, Theresa Moritz of the University of Toronto's Woodsworth College, and the Mozilla Foundation's web literacy lead Doug Belshaw. The discussion centred around the idea that there is some common core of cultural materials that make a person culturally literate - that is, educated well enough to understand the references in newspapers and magazines, a social Rosetta Stone, as it were. Referring back to E.D. Hirsh's list of listed 5,000 essential concepts and names that 'every American needs to know', this discussion was placed in the context of an article in this week's New York Times on faking cultural literacy. It's interesting to think of culture as a type of language that makes it possible to communicate, but it's a mistake, I think, to confuse knowing a language, which is an extended facility (as in playing a game), with knowing a set of facts, which is a rubrics cube.

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