Cultural Literacy is Fundamental!


I’m not only talking about reading fairy tales to kids like Little Red Riding Hood or perusing through the O magazine. I’m talking about literacy and particularly cultural literacy. For example, during the singing of the national anthem, everyone acts respectfully. It is respectful in Latin and some European cultures to greet people with kisses on each cheek. In some Asian cultures, it’s respectful to take your shoes off when entering someone’s homes. As a matter of respect in some African cultures, you must first take care of your elders before eating your meal.

In my experience, a liberal arts education is a prime place where social rules and cultural traditions are taught. We all have the capabilities to understand different cultures. Yet, how is cultural literacy learned without intentionally teaching students in the liberal arts tradition to be socially aware and critical thinkers.

Globalization has made our small world even smaller. Therefore, students need to be prepared to work and learn in many different environments and people with different backgrounds.

My college pursuits allowed me to have a very different life prior to turning 18. I decided to attend Notre Dame, an historically European American private Catholic university which was very different from my African Methodist faith and European American Protestant public school background. Yes, I was only going to the next state to attend school but it was a world of difference. Even though there were philosophical differences between these two worlds, I learned more about my own beliefs. In college, I majored in psychology and conducted multicultural psychology research. To further my education I attended Harvard, another predominately European American private university, for graduate school. In Cambridge, I studied multicultural education to better understand the relation between education and human development.

Since college I’ve enjoyed working in higher education, where I have been able to help students transition from high school to college. When talking to families, most parents feel apprehensive when their son/daughter are interested in a liberal arts major like psychology. They explain that it’s not engineering or business where the student is guaranteed a job. They often ask me how their student can use a liberal arts education.

This is my simplified answer… You will learn so much about yourself that you will embark on a lifelong journey of finding out exactly what you want to do. In laymen’s terms you will have a basic foundation of skills to help guide you for whatever, whenever, wherever for the rest of your life.

My experiences taught me to appreciate diversity and gain cultural literacy. So, no matter where I am or who I am working with, I have the interpersonal skills and cultural competence to work effectively with others. My research training improved my skills of inquiry and critical thinking. Plus, I want to emphasize the importance of reading and writing in our world today. From psychology, I learned the importance of understanding adolescent development and it’s impact on career and college choices. Due to my liberal arts education, I was able to study my academic interests and be a knowledgeable person always seeking to find creative solutions for a problem.

One of the most prolific current works in education and human development is Howard Gardner’s Theory on Multiple Intelligence. We all know kids that are smart in many different ways. For instance, we know students who are good with their hands, have advanced musical abilities, or athletically talented. This theory of multiple intelligences should be applied to career choices… Are you good with math and problem solving? You should consider a career as a statistician. Are you a creative thinker and enjoy writing? You could be a web marketing designer. Do you enjoy science and helping others? You could pursue a career in health public policy. All of these jobs stem from majors in liberal arts.

Cultural literacy is not an easy skill to learn. So, this is my advice to students and their parents concerning liberal arts education:
I was never guaranteed a job and I didn’t choose the typical path for a psychologist. Yet, I can say that I am happy and I am pursuing what I love. I have so many options such as teaching, research, leadership in higher education, non-profit philanthropy, educational event planning, and even blogging!

P.S. Learning cultural literacy will not only open your personal world but also career possibilities. So, with a liberal arts education, don’t do what’s easy… Do what is right for you!


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