6 thoughts on “Cultural (il)literacy: What modern America needs to know | Reg Stewart | TEDxUniversityofNevada”

  1. Wow, this is amazing. As someone who probably hasn't been exposed to many other cultures beside my own, I found this very informative and insightful. This man is a great speaker and I really enjoyed listening to this!

  2. This is a fantastic video. Thank you for breaking this topic down into such digestible components with a clear call to action. Really appreciate your leadership and story.

  3. Transcript:

    On Saturday, September 9, 2014, a police officer and a teenager through tragedy became the catalyst for my belief in the need to resurrect the conversation on what it means to be culturally literate in a modern and diverse society. According to the New York Times, in 1990 Ferguson, Missouri was 74% white and 25% black. By 2000, 52% black, 45% white. By 2010, 69% black, 27% white. Time Magazine adds that during this year 2010, the number of residents living in poverty had doubled and unemployment had exceeded 13%. So, although the demographics of Ferguson had shifted dramatically in twenty-five years, the power structure—city government, school board, law enforcement—did not experience these demographic shifts.

    Let’s move eastward. The New York Police Department Patrol Guide 203-11 states that excessive force will not be tolerated and failure to comply may result in criminal or civil liability. On July 17, 2014 this was called into question. Now, some think we should be discussing the failures of law enforcement while others failure to comply with police directives. And, likely, interspersed throughout, the shortcomings of an imbalanced judicial system. But what I believe we should be discussing is the globalized movement to eradicate cultural illiteracy.

    So what is cultural illiteracy? Well, the short answer? Ignorance. But the long answer is the lack of understanding, the lack of knowledge—the history, the politics, the social norms, the value systems, the belief systems—of cultures other than our own. You see, cultural illiteracy limits our ability to communicate with other people in our society. Cultural illiteracy results in snap judgments and impulse reactions based largely on fear of the unknown. We expect that others act as we act, do as we do, think as we think, feel as we feel, and believe as we believe. So cultural illiteracy is suffocating us, and the result is a divided state of America.

    Now, there are a number of reasons why a person may be culturally illiterate. Maybe they grew up in homogeneous community with little to no diversity. Maybe they are a recent immigrant to this country, and they haven’t had the opportunity to learn the new cultural norms and expectations. Incomplete or ineffective schooling may be a contributing variable. But, perhaps, they are the children of culturally illiterate parents who have then grown up to be culturally illiterate adults themselves.

    Racism—socially constructed racism—is the most destructive byproduct of cultural illiteracy. Now there’s that word. I put it out there. So I guess we got to talk about it.

    Some people say that the best way to get rid of racism is to stop talking about it. Okay. So let’s apply that concept to another ism that is more commonly associated with those of us in education. So, Teachers, from this day forward please, please, please stop talking about plagiarism. Yeah. Because the only people who talk about plagiarism are plagiarists themselves. In fact, if you would stop talking about plagiarism, people would stop doing it, so it is your fault that plagiarism continues to exist. Well, I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Ignoring something doesn’t make it go away.

    So, how do we fix this? How do we eradicate cultural illiteracy? Well, there are three steps. Number one. Understand that just because something doesn’t happen to you doesn’t mean that it’s not happening. Don’t debase, devalue, decry the experiences of others. Step number two. Get way outside your comfort zone. Way outside your comfort zone. And stay there. Now, if you want to know how to do this observe children. Watch how they take to a new sport or an instrument or an activity. See, initially there’s hesitation. But the lure of learning something new reels them in, and it captures them. And from that moment forward, they are engaged in a perpetual cycle learning and discovery. And then step three. Immerse yourself in the language, the literature, the art, the oral traditions, the history, the social norms, the expectations, the value systems of cultures other than your own.

    But here’s the rub. Don’t assimilate. Acculturate. And be mindful of cultural encroachment. See, I have this fear that the concept of by the people, for the people has been lost, and it’s been replaced with by some people, for some people. And this is where I lead you to your call of action. Don’t hide in the comments section on the Internet. If you believe yourself to be on the right side of history, then own what you think and put your name on it. Realize that your normal and my normal? Not mutually exclusive because in order to form this more perfect union it will take every single one of us to eradicate cultural illiteracy.

    Thank you.

  4. What a wonderful presentation about cultural illiteracy. I believe one of the first steps to a solution is creating ethnic studies classes at the high school level. There, students will learn to appreciate cultures at the most pivotal and vital time in their lives. Unfortunately, I was not introduced to ES until I reached college level. At the time I had wished I learned all this information in high school to prepare for my future. Great Video! I will share with my high school students!

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