Americans profess a profound belief in political equality, and yet we are uncomfortable, if political scientist Robert Putnam (2007) is right, with cultural diversity. This tension, which can be seen in the motto of the United States (e pluribus unam), acknowledges the extent to which our national identity emerges from widespread cultural contact that, though potentially a resource, can also, if it results in cultural fragmentation, provide to be a liability.
This possibility is one reason why E. D. Hirsch Jr. (1983) advocates for a cultural literacy, or a shared cultural context that, among other functions, serves as the basis for what Hirsch describes as linguistic literacy (165). This shared context, which Hirsch maintains is primarily created by English and history, is a prerequisite for interpersonal communication and social participation. Continue reading “Culture, Literacy, and What Every American Might Need to Know”