In “Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know (1987)”, Hirsch (1928) introduced the concept of cultural literacy “referring to the ability to understand and participate fluently in a given culture.” Dictionary.com defines cultural literacy as “the knowledge of history, contributions, and perspectives of different cultural groups, including one’s own group, necessary for understanding of reading, writing, and other media.” To be culturally literate is to understand the history and concepts that underline a culture, and to be able to converse fluently in the allusions and informal content of that culture.
Cultural literacy is not only an academic topic rather it is related with our daily lives. Let us see how cultural literacy is significance from an illiterate layman? Mrigendra Bahadur Karki, a researcher with Center for Nepal and Asian Studies, makes the concept clear by explaining the concept for a lay man. “For a lay man, it is the basic information needed to make reasonable conversation with the people associated with him or her”, Karki says, “the more culturally literate you are, the more conversations you’re able to participate in with more people.” He further explains that there is also an element of being able to interact with others.
According to E.D. Hirsch, to be culturally literate is to possess the basic information to thrive in the modern world. It is the “grasp on the background information that writers and speakers assume their audience already has.” In his book, ‘Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know’, Hirsch sets forth 5,000 essential words and phrases of which each person should be knowledgeable. The list ranges from idioms to mythology, from science to fairy tales.
Culturally literate people feel easy in social gathering and some other kind of political, social or ideological debates. ‘It is expected that you have at least basic knowledge in certain topics when you are hanging out with friends or any other group’, says Narendra Jung Peter, a columnist, ‘If you are not culturally literate and the topic may hinder your functional conversation.’ How does cultural literacy come from? ‘From reading’, says Peter.
Reading does not necessarily mean the formal education. Since cultural literacy is the way we look at social and cultural issues–especially issues of change and mobility–it comes from our personal reading of different issues in society. These issues or objects can be categorized in major six type; literature, history, art and music, science, logic and Mathematics and rhetoric. First, literature is read for pleasure and taught analytically in historic and artistic context. Second, it is the history through which one can increase culturally literacy. History encompass all the aspects of human civilizations up to date and including the present including politics, culture, religion, science, arts and many other disciplines. Third major area through which one can improve cultural literacy is art and music which has both the quality; applied experience and foundation of art history and appreciation. Fourth is science, the foundation of knowledge of scientific history. Fifth is Logic and Mathematics built on a solid foundation of arithmetic? The final area to improve cultural literacy is rhetoric, debate based on principles of logic, and including appropriate allusions to content from the other disciplines.
Moreover, the benefit of being culturally literate is a chance to get better opportunity. According to Paras Kharel, Managing Director at Rolling Plans Pvt. Ltd., a Human Resource Consulting Firm based in Kathmandu, being culturally literate simply opens up doors and opportunities for everyone. ‘We always haunt person with rich knowledge’, He says, ‘cultural literacy improves your understanding of everything going on around you.’
Finally, how to improve our cultural literacy? The best way is media. Here media includes books, newspapers, internet, television, radio and other means of communication. We have to make an effort to read a lot of material in a lot of different areas discussed above. ‘I read about everything and try to retain at least pieces of it, and doing so has helped me out time and time again in conversing with people and building relationships’, says Karna Thapa, Campus Chief of Nepal Law Campus. Not only that, well written nonfiction works can be incredibly compelling and interesting. For instance, if you are interest in the contemporary history of Nepal you can by ‘Prayogshala’ by Sudhir Sharma or ‘Battle of the New Republic’ by Prashant Jha.