Cultural conservative education-theoretic concept; term coined by one Mr. E.D. Hirsch, jr, claiming that all red-blooded Americans need a common language (English is not enough) of common references and connotations, in order to effectively communicate. This cultural comprehends nursery rhymes, literature, American history, etc. Hirsch often glosses it as the stock of factual and linguistic knowledge necessary to read a paper like the New York Times without appeal to a reference work.
Hirsch sets forward the theoretical underpinnings in Cultural Literacy: what every American needs to know, and later proceeds beyond the theory, consulting with teachers and academics to produce the one-volume Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, along with a spate of grade-leveled guides and classroom materials marketed under the imprint of the “Core Knowledge Foundation”. These compendia are often critiqued as presenting shallow and/or insufficiently critical versions of history, etc.
College students may have met the bossy Dr. Hirsch, Jr in his essay “How to read a poem” and the like.
Hirsch’s initial premise-that cultural literacy exists and that it is important-is unobjectionable and even profoundly useful. Certainly it is the case that langauge-uses depend upon shared networks of reference, and that without such, communication would be difficult to impossible. But there are certain problematic leaps in logic from this-for example, Hirsch holds that America has previously had a uniform coherent cultural literacy, which isn’t all that clear, and that while we had a cultural literacy previously, we do not now. His stock example is Shakespeare, once quoted as the Bible was quoted-freely, without comment, and with full expectation of understanding and denotative and connotative transmission, but now only vaguely infringing upon the cultural consciousness. It is certainly true that Shakespeare has declined of importance, but this is not to say that our cultural fabric is unwoven; the Simpsons, for example, have a universality that rivals Shakespeare’s. Hirsch, of course, makes the further unlikely leap that there is some intrinsic worth to Shakespeare that our modern CL lacks; this is not an impossible argument (see Nick’s regections of linguistic relativity (LanguageAndValue, [The Valuation and Evaluation of Writing])), but Hirsch makes no serious attempt to grapple with it, taking it as assumed that Shakespeare is irreplaceable.
Similarly, Hirsch assumes that it is a problem that we have a fractured cultural literacy, which sets us apart from each other and disables our communication. Certainly Nick is a posterchild for this problem-after all, it is precisely to overcome such issues that the UgP was established. But the UgP does not presume that diversity of cultural literacy is a problem-on the contrary, provided means of making culture explicit (cf. Delpit), cultural diversity can be a strength, rather than a weakness. This, at any rate, is the premise of this glossary.

category:theory education