Cultural Literacy, Part 1Premise: Today's youth are culturally illiterate. My opinion is that today's youth are woefully illiterate about their own culture. Even with all the technology available...

Cultural Literacy, Part 1

Premise: Today's youth are culturally illiterate.

My opinion is that today's youth are woefully illiterate about their own culture. Even with all the technology available to them, they remain focused only their areas of interest and are unaware of what came before or what is going on around them in other areas.

For instance, in 1964, if a teenager wanted to watch the Beatles sing "I Want to Hold Your Hand" on "The Ed Sullivan Show," she had to sit through the performances of magician Fred Kaps, impressionist Frank Gorshin, acrobats Wells & the Four Fays, comedians McCall & Brill, and Broadway star Georgia Brown with Oliver! They got a sampling of all sorts of entertainment. Nowadays, if she wanted to see the Beatles perform the same song, she just has to turn on her Ipod.

More people can identify Snooki than those who can name Colin Powell or even Hillary Clinton. I saw an interesting cartoon the other day. It was one of those Hallmark Maxine cards. It said: "In 30 years there will be thousands of old women with tattoos, and rap music will be the golden oldies." Lady Gaga's "Born This Way" will just sound pitiful then!

Is it important that young people know their own culture? Do you agree with me that they are culturally illiterate? I'm interested in reading your comments.

9 Answers | Add Yours

stolperia's profile pic

stolperia | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

Let's remember - for better or for worse, the technology and the social media connections and all the rest are part of the culture of today's youth. From that standpoint, I have the impression that most young people are very knowledgeable about their culture. The problem lies with those of us who would like to include other kinds of activities or sources of culture in the mix. Just because we "old" people feel culture should include awareness of historic events or different genres of music or classic works of literature doesn't necessarily mean young people without those knowledge sets are illiterate. It may simply mean they know how to work the age-of-information tools so that they can access the knowledge when it is needed but don't see a reason to memorize facts just for the sake of memorizing. It's a new world...!

literaturenerd's profile pic

literaturenerd | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

What is "their culture" really? I think that teens are so bombarded by media that they cannot grasp what their culture really is. I do not think that I can fully blame the media. In reality, I think it is technology. Teens seem to need to be plugged in to make sense of everything. Instead of looking something up in a reference book or a scholarly place, they look at YouTube or another site.

As an example, my school has many students in the RTI program. Instead of simply completing the program, they are spending time trying to figure out how to beat the system, how to cheat it. If they would spend the same amount of time working through the problems they would master it and learn. Unfortunately, THEIR culture is to find the easiest way out.

 

belarafon's profile pic

belarafon | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

Misinformation is the bane of education. Media, in most forms, is entertainment at best and mis-or-disinformation at worst. There are channels with educational programs (I love "How It's Made) that don't talk down to kids and can be useful in everyday life. The intentional educational programs tend to be condescending.

In my mind, today's youth is more self-educated than previous generations (not necessarily a good thing). I wouldn't blame "all this newfangled rap music" or anything similar; in fact, since Lady Gaga's name came up, may I point out that her current singles sound like they came straight out of the Eighties? Retro entertainment is everywhere, even if it has modern sensibilities, so that argument doesn't hold much water. Instead, I'll go ahead and lay the bulk of the blame on parents; they are disinterested in the education of their kids and as long as they don't get arrested, many don't care what they're learning.

Regarding actual illiteracy, I'd argue that technology has improved reading skills. The Kindle and its extended family of e-readers have become affordable, fast, and most important, fashionable. I have yet to get one for myself -- I love the concept but I can't justify even the decreased cost yet -- but so many people I know have one and are reading much more than they ever did before. Plus, the e-ink versions use very little electricity, so they're a good replacement for laptops, tablets, and mp3 players during power outages.

Regarding cultural knowledge, remember that today's youth gets the bulk of their public affairs information from the Daily Show. Make of that what you will.

litteacher8's profile pic

litteacher8 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

On the one hand, I think that culture is continually evolving and there are many elements of today's popular culture of which I am entirely or mostly ignorant.  Could it be that there is just more and more culture, dating back further and further in time?

linda-allen's profile pic

linda-allen | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

Posted on

It seems the comparison of today's generation vs. yesterday's will be brought up, debated, and discussed forever, and though compared to the other two posters, I'd be considered quite young, I have to steal the wise Solomon's words here and say: There is nothing new under the sun.

I have to disagree with the comparisons of ipods to the Ed Sullivan show as a reason for teenager singlemindedness.  Is it not simply an issue of all teenagers, everywhere, at all times (now and in history), to be mostly immature, self absorbed, and unaware of things that do not interest them?  (One measuring stick for growth and arrival in the "adult world" was the moment I realized I no longer display these qualities.)

As far as illiteracy goes, you could substitute the word "ignorance" and yes, it is in large part due to culture.  I'd say it is more of a behavioral issue than a technological issue, however, and might cite the lack of parenting, family dinners, and general accountability as more of an impetus than computers and iPods.

Technology merely has more room to thrive in a generation that seeks self-accountability and independence over the concept of community living.

Well said. I do get your point about technology, but I wonder if it contributes to the lack of parenting, family dinners, etc. Perhaps technology has become a substitute for them because they were lacking already.

Good responses!

clairewait's profile pic

clairewait | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

It seems the comparison of today's generation vs. yesterday's will be brought up, debated, and discussed forever, and though compared to the other two posters, I'd be considered quite young, I have to steal the wise Solomon's words here and say: There is nothing new under the sun.

I have to disagree with the comparisons of ipods to the Ed Sullivan show as a reason for teenager singlemindedness.  Is it not simply an issue of all teenagers, everywhere, at all times (now and in history), to be mostly immature, self absorbed, and unaware of things that do not interest them?  (One measuring stick for growth and arrival in the "adult world" was the moment I realized I no longer display these qualities.)

As far as illiteracy goes, you could substitute the word "ignorance" and yes, it is in large part due to culture.  I'd say it is more of a behavioral issue than a technological issue, however, and might cite the lack of parenting, family dinners, and general accountability as more of an impetus than computers and iPods.

Technology merely has more room to thrive in a generation that seeks self-accountability and independence over the concept of community living.

linda-allen's profile pic

linda-allen | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

Posted on

Judging by some of the posts found on eNotes, I would just leave out the "culturally" part of your post. Many youths of today just border on illiterate. I realize that many posts are made by cells and iPods, making it more difficult to use capitalization, for instance, but the spelling errors and grammatically incorrect nature of many of the posts make me cringe each time I have to correct them. I believe most teenagers are quite up-to-date on current cultural trends, but I also agree that most of them are only concerned with their areas of interest. Today's youth have a woeful lack of knowledge of past events and even of current events of importance. Your post reminds me of a recent eNotes discussion post in which the teenage poster claimed that today's youth are the most brilliant of all generations. Sadly, many of them don't have a clue about anything not involving current technology--cell phones, iPods, and video games. When it comes to these addictions, the youth of today are true experts.

Yes, and they will be lost when the electricity goes out and all the batteries die! Do you think they will take the time then to learn how to read?

bullgatortail's profile pic

bullgatortail | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

Judging by some of the posts found on eNotes, I would just leave out the "culturally" part of your post. Many youths of today just border on illiterate. I realize that many posts are made by cells and iPods, making it more difficult to use capitalization, for instance, but the spelling errors and grammatically incorrect nature of many of the posts make me cringe each time I have to correct them. I believe most teenagers are quite up-to-date on current cultural trends, but I also agree that most of them are only concerned with their areas of interest. Today's youth have a woeful lack of knowledge of past events and even of current events of importance. Your post reminds me of a recent eNotes discussion post in which the teenage poster claimed that today's youth are the most brilliant of all generations. Sadly, many of them don't have a clue about anything not involving current technology--cell phones, iPods, and video games. When it comes to these addictions, the youth of today are true experts.

pohnpei397's profile pic

pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

Wow... where to start...

I guess the first place I'll jump in is on the quality of music today.  I think that the older generation always thinks this way.  Yet, here I am 29 years after having started high school and I was just now cooking and listening to an iPod and I had Michael Jackson and Madonna and Bob Seger (as well as Ella Fitzgerald and Desi Arnaz, no -- not singing together) come up on the shuffle.  In other words, I still love the pop stuff from when I was a kid.  So, I'll have to disagree with that part of your comment.  I'm not sure there's any guarantee that Lady Gaga will sound pitiful to our kids when they are our age.

As far as the idea that kids are culturally illiterate I'd once again have to ask if anyone has evidence that we were any better back in the '80s (or whenever other people on here were young).  I know that I was more politically aware than many of my classmates and yet I didn't read the news sections of newspapers and I didn't watch TV news.  Could I have identified Reagan's Secretary of State?  I wouldn't want to bet anything I wouldn't care to lose.

On another topic, technology is a two-edged sword.  On the one hand, you're right about your iPod (or YouTube) point.  On the other, I know what my younger friends' tastes are because they've got Spotify linked up to Facebook and that tells me what they're listening to.  So they are going to be exposing one another to different groups and perhaps different genres of music, which is perhaps somewhat analagous to what happened on Ed Sullivan.

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