In the United States during the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, the notion of cultural literacy presupposes a common cultural ancestry, imagines a homogeneous cultural experience, and assumes a collective cultural legacy. Associated with a conservative social, economic, and political agenda, cultural literacy and related issues often carry partisan connotations. According to its conservative advocates, cultural literacy consists of “factual” information known to a majority of literate Americans. Challengers assert that the dominant culture determines the contents of the cultural canon.

Citing “universal” meaning, “common” knowledge, and historical intransigence as hallmarks of canonical worth, allies of the cultural literacy movement deem superfluous those cultural traditions seen as outside of the dominant culture. Thus, the Western cultural tradition arbitrates both the composition of the ...

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