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Cultural Literacy for Kids: Introducing the Classics

As parents of a teen and preteen, my husband and I take our roles as educators seriously.  We know they will be introduced to "the classics" in school, such as "Where the Red Fern Grows", "To Kill a Mockingbird" and who could forget the classic film, "Your Changing Body" (insert pre-teen shudder).

While school attends to expanding their minds, we have taken on the awesome responsibility for making sure they are properly educated in the science of cultural literacy.  Wikipedia defines cultural literacy this way:

Cultural literacy is the ability to converse fluently in the idioms, allusions and informal content which creates and constitutes a dominant culture. From being familiar with street signs to knowing historical references to understanding the most recent slang, literacy demands interaction with the culture and  reflection of it. Knowledge of a canonical set of literature is not sufficient in and of itself when engaging with others in a society, as life is interwoven with art, expression, history and experience. Cultural literacy requires familiarity with a broad range of trivia and implies the use of that trivia in the creation of a communal language and collective knowledge. Cultural literacy stresses the knowledge of those pieces of information which content creators will assume the audience already possesses.
We first started noticing the need for this literacy a few years ago, when we would be watching a TV show or movie, which would reference (or spoof) another TV show or movie, and our kids would ask, "What does that mean?"  And we would have to explain the original source, and why it was funny in this instance.

But we eventually realized it was better for them to understand the reference for themselves, from the original source. So we have made a point to include regular viewings of "classic" material, amongst our rentals of current movies and such.

To create our list of Must-See's, we dug back into our own childhoods & teenhoods, to remember movies, TV shows, and books not only that made an impact on us personally, but also those that are frequently referenced (and spoofed) in modern entertainment.  We have also expanded our list of must-experience's to include Musicals, Music, and Food.  Another, perhaps unorthodox, way to come up with titles of cultural reference is to watch "Family Guy", or many Pixar movies - both frequently spoof/pay homage/refer to classic entertainment of their own childhoods.  Being a family of geeks, we also make sure they are fully versed in things Trek/Star Wars/Sci-Fi/Fantasy, so they can appreciate What Every Good Geek Should Know.  We have our educational priorities.

Our efforts are paying off - we watched "Monsters vs Aliens" recently, and one scene included references to the movies "ET" and "Close Encounters of the Third Kind", and our kids got both references.  My husband and I smiled smugly, and were quite pleased with ourselves.

We have really enjoyed this time with our kids.  It allows us to share pieces of our personal histories with them in a fun, entertaining way, as well as helping them to become literate people who can understand cultural references in context.  We notice them laughing along with us at jokes their friends often don't catch.  And we've enjoyed hauling out favorite movies and old TV shows, and viewing them again through
their eyes.  We can take the time to explain to them why something was funny or appropriate at that time in history (think the historical backdrop of M*A*S*H, or Doc Brown's stunned response to hearing that Ronald Regan was president, in "Back to the Future").

Of course, I'm considering how to scrapbook this process.  There are enough items in each category that I think I may do a small album for each (or at least add them to my never-ending crafting to-do list).  I could do a Cultural Literacy album for each: Books, Movies, Music, Musicals, TV Shows, and Food.  I've already started an Excel spreadsheet to track our progress, and as a brainstorming repository.  I'll share it here:

Download Culteduc.xls

Please note: Once you check out my list of Cultural Literacy education 'modules', you will probably notice we are a little heavy in the Movie category.  Like by way-a-lot.  You might perhaps think poorly of our educational process in, say, the Book category.  But don't worry too much about us - we are a heavy book-reading family.  My kids used to think going to the library was a treat.  (Now it's more about Borders, but I figure the content is essentially the same, and the end result is still reading).  We make plenty of suggestions about books we think our kids should try, but they have pretty specific tastes, and always seem to have a book (or two, or four) beside their beds.  We read to them all throughout their formative childhood years, but now they read primarily on their own, rather than as a family activity.  Still, for documentation/scrapbooking purposes, I need to dig back in my memory banks for more of the "classics" we did guide them toward when they were younger.

So what say you?  Do you make any special efforts to further your child(ren)'s cultural education?  What "classics" would you consider "required" for a complete education?


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