Cultural literacy refers to the ability to participate and fully understand a culture. To be literate in reading means to be able to understand the signs and what they signify, as well as elements of language that are idiomatic and specific to a particular group or community. Thus, to be culturally literature means to be able to understand the intricate details of a culture.
The term "cultural literacy" was coined by E. B. Hirsch, an American educator and writer. His theories regarding the necessity of a common core cultural literacy in American classrooms proves to be his most lauded achievement, though it is still quite controversial. Hirsch's 1987 book "Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know" offered a list of cultural accomplishments, products and environments that every American student needs to learn in order to participate successfully in society. Critics charged Hirsch with ignoring important factors, such as different learning styles and abilities, socioeconomic status and environment. He is also charged with promoting a "drill and kill" pedagogy that neglects individual needs and capacities of students. Others accuse Hirsch's promotion of cultural literacy as an attempt to de-professionalize the field of teaching, turning it into a factory-like setting, instead of a learning institution to shape minds.