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Cultural Literacy: Geek Parenting Done Right

When our kids were little, my husband and I took our roles as educators seriously. We knew they would 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). But while school attended to expanding their minds, we took on the awesome responsibility for making sure they are properly educated in the art and science of cultural literacy. 

Wikipedia defines cultural literacy this way:

Cultural literacy is a term coined by E. D. Hirsch, referring to the ability to understand and participate fluently in a given culture… a culturally literate person knows a given culture’s signs and symbols, including its language, particular dialectic, stories, entertainment, idioms, idiosyncrasies, and so on. The culturally literate person is able to talk to and understand others of that culture with fluency, while the culturally illiterate person fails to understand culturally-conditioned allusions, references to past events, idiomatic expressions, jokes, names, places, etc.

Wikipedia: Cultural literacy

We first started noticing the need for this literacy 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 made a point to include regular viewings of “classic” (by our definition) material, among our viewings 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 that not only made an impact on us personally, but also those that are frequently referenced (and spoofed) in modern entertainment. We also expanded our list of must-experience’s to include Musicals, Music, and Food.

Another, perhaps unorthodox, way we came up with titles of cultural reference was 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 made sure they were fully versed in geek cultural literacy, including Star Trek/Star Wars/Sci-Fi/Fantasy elements, so they could appreciate What Every Good Geek Should Know. We had our own educational priorities.

E.T. wrapped in a blanket, in front of a planet. Learn how to help your child with cultural literacy on
Image by 1195798 from Pixabay 

Our efforts have paid off – when we watched “Monsters vs Aliens” with them, one scene included references to the movies “E.T.” 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. Geek cultural literacy achieved.

We really enjoyed all that time with our kids. It allowed 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 noticed them laughing along with us at jokes their friends often didn’t catch.

And we enjoyed hauling out favorite movies and old TV shows, and viewing them again through their eyes. We could 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 Reagan was president, in “Back to the Future”).

Cultural literacy worksheet

When we started this process, I created a spreadsheet to track our progress, and as a brainstorming repository. I added it to Google Docs so you can make a copy and create your own version:

cultural-literacy Google Sheet

Please note: you will probably notice we were 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, and always had a stack of comics next to their beds.

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 – geek or otherwise?

Start reading comics

Want to introduce your kid or yourself to comics? Here are some tips on how to start reading comics.

Connect with geek teens

Do you have a geek teen looking to connect with others? Read this post on Getting Involved in the KC Geek Community – for Teens.

Feature image: Vidmir Raic from Pixabay

2 thoughts on “Cultural Literacy: Geek Parenting Done Right”

  1. What a great post. Definitely, cultural literacy in many areas, whether that’s in “geekdom” or not, is something worthwhile to develop. I think this is partly because we can connect to others more easily when we all can understand the “inside jokes/references” found in media, for example. Just as important is that we ourselves can enjoy a movie (or some other form of media) more completely when we can recognize and understand the significance of iconic images, characters and ideas. And we can then appreciate the efforts by the creators of that movie, etc., to add complexity and layers to their stories, to link them to something in the past. That in turn speaks to our inherent need for connection and the instinctive search for meaning.

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