The ultimate goal of literacy and learning is communication. Shared values and shared knowledge form the basis for mutual comprehension. Without these shared values and a common knowledge base, meaningful communication becomes difficult, if not impossible. The assertion has been made by one author that at least 80% of our shared culture has been in existence for over 100 years. Since its inception the population of the United States has shared numerous common cultural sources, each adding to the total cultural reservoir from which daily communication and values spring.
Some of this shared knowledge came from the Bible, mythology and folklore, proverbs, idioms, English literature, geography, political systems, the sciences, and technology. The common elements are so strong that a few years back a dictionary of cultural literacy was written as a source book for understanding our American cultural heritage. It was proposed as a guide book for anyone seeking to understand and participate in the American society, and I consider it a valuable addition to any person’s library.
There have been constant additions to this knowledge base over time and such additions continue yearly. However, it is that large shared pool of information and values permeating the U.S. for hundreds of years that facilitates meaningful communication. It is this shared knowledge that makes meaningful communication possible within a country. Without this shared background knowledge, the process of communication has too many intervening variables that interfere with the communication process. Values do matter.
The introduction of multiculturalism in our educational system has tended to dilute this shared pool of knowledge. It is not the introduction of new elements per se that creates the negative effect. There have always been new elements introduced into this knowledge base and they have been integrated into the larger cultural knowledge base. The negative aspect is the emphasis of each subcultural ethnic group emphasizing their ethnic identity over that of being a citizen of the United States and sharing in the overall cultural knowledge base.
Learning and cultural literacy are two concepts that are inseparable interwoven and the process by which they occur has an influence on all other areas of our life.
Learning occurs in a cultural context and cannot be separated from the common knowledge that makes up the national culture. When the school system no longer teaches the common elements of the country’s literate language and national cultural elements, the literacy and effectiveness of the country’s educational system will decline. This is already becoming increasingly evident.
Multicultural understanding is not a bad goal. Understanding how another group thinks and acts facilitates communication and the possibility of mutual cohesiveness. However, when the knowledge base from which the majority of its citizens operate, is not understood by the balance of the population, conflict will be inevitable. The country is becoming not a multicultural community where all cultural traditions are honored, but a country of subgroups, each vying for dominance over the other. You do not protect a cultural minority by excluding it from the mainstream. It is time to again emphasize our commonalities, not our differences.
Dr. Lamar Ross, a cultural anthropologist by training, has a special interest in training individuals for expatriate living and providing information on unique travel destinations. He is an author, educator, photographer, internet entrepreneur, and international traveler. He has lived in the United States, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and India and has traveled extensively in 29 different countries. His pensionado visa for Panama has been approved and he will be spending more time in Panama in the near future. He speaks both English and Spanish fluently and has a basic ability in several other languages. For more information on expatriate living, check out the blog Expatriate Traveler Notes. Check out also his Everything Travel Blog.