Cultural Literacy Papers
Learn from these passage, then write your own paper.
The passages below have been taken from a variety of interesting Cultural Literacy essays by students. They show the wide range of topics that students came up with for papers after reading Amy Werbel’s Lessons from China. They also demonstrate a range of approaches to discussing those topics. As you can see below, some students:
• took an argumentative approach
• brought in personal experiences in explaining their opinion or explaining their interest in a topic
• used a historical perspective as a means of investigation
• called attention to cause-effect relations
• compared and contrasted viewpoints of people from different generations or from different countries.
• Take a very close look at specific examples that support their claims
• Use primary research (interviews or surveys that they conducted themselves), in addition to the required use of secondary sources
You will find that most begin with a concrete starting point, such as:
• a culturally influential person
• a cultural practice
• a cultural event.
• a cultural object
All of them explore different perspectives, as required in the assignment guidelines. They call attention to social factors that influence different perspectives. All of them use secondary sources.
Keep in mind that in each case, you are seeing just part of an essay, not the whole essay. I have selected passages that give a good idea of what the paper addresses, and have also included passages that show how writers talked about specific examples.
As you read through these examples, take notice of how the writers narrowed and shaped their topics, and how they employed different rhetorical moves.
1. From “A Protest That Kills”:
In 1970 there were protests all over the United States demanding that the US government end the war in Vietnam. Some protesters would engage in damaging and questionable demonstrations to get their point across. In Kent, Ohio, students at Kent State University had protests and demonstrations about the war on campus. The Ohio National Guard open fired on the students killing four students and wounding nine more (Rosenberg, J). The general public’s opinion is that the Ohio National Guard was entirely at fault for the shootings, and that they should have let the students protest (Gilgenbach). However this may not have been the case. The students and the Ohio National Guard are equally at fault for the shootings at Kent State University.
A Protest that Kills: Argument. Focus on a cultural event mentioned in Werbel. Shows other cultural perspective, not commonly held in society, representing perspective of National Guards who shot the students.
2. From “Self-Expression Through Psychedelic Drugs”:
Hippies in the 1960’s were notorious for their experimental drug use. Whether it was marijuana, acid, mushrooms, DMT, or some kind of pill, they were always trying to get “high” on something. Why were people experimenting with drugs? What was the reasoning behind it? In the 1950’s, pharmaceutical companies generated a lot of advertising and a sense of “brainwashing” that anything could be cured with a simple drug. “They produced drugs to prevent disease, to cure disease, to alleviate pain, to relieve upset stomachs, to keep you alert, to help you to sleep, to lessen worry, to reduce hyperactivity in children, to remove symptoms of psychological disorders.” (Stone 3). American families began filling their medicine cabinets with all sorts of pills and drugs used for curing all kinds of sickness. It was through this heavy advertising and influence that the children began to see drugs as a good thing—as something to make them feel better. These kids would later grow up to become what is known as the hippies.
In 1966 the Rolling Stones released a song entitled “Mother’s Little Helper” in which Mick Jagger sings about a housewife abusing the drug, valium: “Mother needs something today to calm her down. And though she’s not really ill, there’s a little yellow pill. She goes running for the shelter of her Mother’s Little Helper.” Jagger goes on to sing about how the housewife needs to take this pill to remain calm from doing all of the work around the house; cooking, cleaning, caring for the children, and taking care of her husband. This song by the Rolling Stones is an example of how certain drugs were abused within the home even by the mother of the family. Perhaps the children of the time caught on to what their mothers were up to and it would only be a matter of time before they began doing the same thing. This is the behavior that would evolve into self-expression by the youth.
Moving over to the other side of the world, we take a look at China and their medicine practices. The medicine practices in China are very different than the United States, because they use a lot of traditional Chinese practices. They do have their pharmaceutical companies that make pills and what we Americans see as a form of medicine, however that is not their primary form of medicine. Historically speaking, in the 1960’s when medicine was gaining popularity, China was relying on traditional forms of medicine. I conducted an interview with Shawn Z—, an exchange student from China, and he told me that Chinese medicine practices are primarily through acupuncture, ancient herbs, and massage. Acupuncture is the use of hundreds needles poked into the skin and it is used to cure sickness of the head, meaning any psychological disorders or mental illness. Chinese massage is used for pains and aches, such as a sore back, sprained ankle or physical sores. The Chinese use blends of ancient herbs as a cure for things such as fevers and colds. So already, it is seen that there is no sign of drug use and nothing to lead the youth into this direction, as was the case in America.
The other big issue that explains the difference in drug use in China is the Opium Wars. . . .
“Self-Expression Through Psychedelic Drugs”: Historical analysis. Looks at cultural factors promoting drug use in the US previous to the 1960s/70s counterculture. Zeros in on a song as expression of cultural practices at the time. Contrasts to historical factors influencing Chinese attitudes towards drug use.
3. From “What do Chinese’ Comments on Gun Control Reflect?”
At 8:45 pm, Jan 31st 2014, a gun shooting case occurred in 200 block of Cedar Street in East Lansing, which made me feel very fearful and think it was really dangerous for ordinary civilians to have guns. I had heard a lot about gun shootings and how dangerous it is that the US government has loose control on guns in civilians’ hands, but I always thought those dangers were far away from me. Although I have been in the US for four years, Jan 31’s gun shooting was the only one that happened so near to me. But that was not the first time I thought gun violence really threatens residents’ safety.
And most Chinese people have same opinions with me. Nearly all of Chinese comments are about control guns since innocent residents will die of gun shootings. There always are hundreds of comments posted under the gun shooting news on Internet, such as micro blogs and online news. All those comments are criticizing guns, like “it’s dangerous to live in America” “come back to China, stay away form gun shooting” “lucky that China has strict gun control” and so on. Almost no Chinese people think about positive reasons to allow civilians keep guns. On the contrast, Americans have different voices on gun problems. I knew there was a petition about gun control reform published on the White House petition website after the Sandy Hook School’s tragedy; and even some government officials discussed about gun control. I used to think most people would support that petition. Out of my surprise, there were several petitions about keep guns in the relative petitions part, including “Keep guns in America! No weapons ban!” “No more gun control!” “Stop Demonizing guns”, etc (A Message from President Obama).
I was very curious why still more than half of Americans support keeping guns after so many gun shootings. I found there are several debates about keeping guns. From these opinions, I found Americans are able to understand gun problems from several perspectives, and some consider gun control as a way of limiting freedom. I feel they are more sensitive to their rights and politics. I am not saying whether the law should ban guns by talking about those comments on gun control, but just wonder why Chinese people only think about the safety aspect of this problem, but are not able to connect it with rights and see it from a political level?
Amy Werbel’s book provides me some clues to answer this problem. . . .
“What do Chinese’ Comments on Gun Control Reflect?”: Takes some ideas from Werbel, first regarding how Chinese students were puzzled by debates in US society on abortion, since it involved issues foreign to their cultural discourse (esp. concerning religion.) 2nd, took idea regarding US cultural attitudes towards “rights.” Applies this to gun control debate in the US to understand what the argument is about, and try to make more sense of the argument from a Chinese perspective. Not arguing pro or con gun ownership..
4. From “The Art of Protest”:
Protests have always been part of an American way to go against something that is not wanted. The creation of United States basically came about as a protest against the British Monarchy, expressed in the Declaration of Independence. Demonstrations, given by the freedom of speech and the right to assemble, have been used constantly by special interest groups to amend certain laws or show disagreement between them and the government. But protests need leaders to organize them and to give the protests meaning or else they may be too dysfunctional to be successful. One of these types of leaders can include artistic leaders that would either sing or create art sending a message corresponding to a protest. Amy Werbel, author of Lessons From China, specifically lists Bob Dylan and Ai Weiwei and what they have done to try to rally people up and go against their governments’ decisions. When protests against a certain cause occur, it is very important for people to not only be united, but to have a strong artistic influence that can lead the way, sending an important message through music or art. Having artistic leaders makes large difference in how successful a movement can be.
“The Art of Protest”: Uses “Protest” as a cultural artifact. Narrows down to examining the role of artists in making protests more successful. Looks at 2 specific artists, one from US & one from China
5. From “A New Shade of Red: Mao’s Revolution”
The civilizations of the East have been for decades the source of wonder and curiosity for the Western world. American children often stare at the “Made in China” stamp on the bottom of their action figure’s boot. It is all too often that a westerner simply ponders what is “made in China” and not what made China. The China the 21st century is familiar with is the product of decades of class struggle. China’s Cultural Revolution has had an impact not only on successive generations but also on the nation as a whole.
Under Mao Zedong’s rule, China underwent a conflict between rural proletariats and the urban bourgeois and brought about a “Cultural Revolution.” Mao Zedong is considered the founding father of the Communist Party of China. One of the most published books in the world, The Quotations of Mao Zedong, otherwise known as “The Little Red Book” (Lei Han), is a collection of quotations from this political vanguard, and is organized into thirty-three parts describing various aspects of this school of thought. The worldwide production of this text is second only to the bible. This book had a profound effect on Chinese citizens who lived within the age of China’s Cultural Revolution.
“A New Shade of Red: Mao’s Revolution”: Historical examination of how Mao Zedong brought about China’s Cultural Revolution. Specifically targets Mao’s Little Red Book as a cultural artifact, looking at its influence on the people living at the time. Looks at how we still see the influence of the Cultural Revolution in today’s China.
6. From “Foot Binding and the Road to Freedom”
When you hear the phrase “beauty is pain”, is voluntarily breaking your own toes and destruction of your foot the first thing that comes to mind? Probably not, unless you are a Chinese woman who was born sometime between the 10th century and 1911. Foot binding was a very important practice in the Chinese culture during these years. Women endured this form of torture in order to be seen as wealthy, successful, and beautiful by society. The abolition of foot binding also had a huge effect on the beginning of the Women’s Rights Movement in China. But the big question is, “what effect did abolishing foot binding have on the role of women in China today?”
“Foot Binding and the Road to Freedom”: Discusses the cultural practice of foot-binding & its role in keeping women socially powerless. Looks at how abolishing this practice helped open the door to women’s rights in China.
7. From “Those Beautiful Feet in those Ugly Small Shoes”
Although what Chinese women made their young daughters go through was cruel and senseless from our modern view, we need to look at our own cultural practices with objectivity. Indeed, the 21st century is not as extreme as the 10th century, but the same messages are given from generation to generation. The male had the power and control in the society in the 10th century, and still has the power in the 21st century – in terms of women making body modifications to please the male. Rather than portraying thin models whom some may have eating disorders as “beautiful and sexy”, media needs to portray natural beauty of the women. Women have died because of their attempts to make themselves beautiful by becoming anorexic. Lives could be saved if media portrayed real-life women with the appropriate height and weight, including all races and ethnicities.
“Those Beautiful Feet in those Ugly Small Shoes”: Discusses the cultural practice of foot binding in China. Uses this as a lens through which to look at practices in current, modern society that have similar social principles behind them.
8. From “An Era of New Consciousness”
The middle class of American society was the first to become interested in new drugs and was intrigued to experience the mental side effects they had to offer. The emergence of this particular class to experiment with various types of drugs, mainly LSD and psilocybin mushrooms, can be traced back to the 1960s counterculture movement. This movement, also known as the “hippie era”, was a period when the youth began to reject long-held social values and norms of behavior. During this decade, a Harvard psychology professor named Timothy Leary “rose to national prominence…due to his experience and support of psychedelic drug use, defending his use of drugs before the Supreme Court, popularizing the phrase ‘turn on, tune in, drop out,’ and even collaborating with the Beatles” (Kansra and Shih 2012). His involvement with researching and experimenting hallucinogenic drugs dramatically altered society’s outlook on whether or not these substances were helpful or harmful to those who were using these drugs. Was Leary’s engagement with drugs during this time period a contribution toward the hippie movement, an effect of this movement, or maybe both?
“An Era of New Consciousness”: Looks at Timothy Leary as a “cultural icon”, in relation to the age of the US 60’s counterculture. Examines whether he was a cause or effect of the counterculture, or perhaps both an effect & a cause.
9. From “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World”
As the years go on, women continue to gain greater access in the public sphere. Women have come a long way since the time that they had no rights at all in the nineteenth century. In the very beginning, there were separate spheres for men and women: women were in control of the private, domestic sphere, and men were in charge of the public, working sphere. These two roles never crossed. With each wave of feminism, women have increasingly been present in the public sphere and have gained more rights. Despite these major advancements for women, there are still many obstacles that women must overcome in the public sphere that men do not face. The United States is still a man’s world. . . .
Along with insufficient representation in government, the women who do participate in America’s government are heavily criticized. Hillary Clinton was very successful in the 2008 election year, coming farther than any other woman in history in the race for presidency. Unfortunately, Hillary Clinton is constantly under scrutiny for physical characteristics. A couple of years ago, an image was released of Clinton with hardly any makeup on (see next page). Reporters judged her habits of not wearing make-up, wearing glasses, and wearing her hair up (Moore). Clinton responded, “If I want to wear my glasses, I’m wearing my glasses. If I want to wear my hair back I’m pulling my hair back. You know at some point it’s just not something that deserves a lot of time and attention” (Moore). Clinton’s appearance is not what should be represented in the media because her appearance is irrelevant to her duties as Secretary of State. This reflects just how much pressure there is on women to look attractive. Clinton has also repeatedly been portrayed in the media and political cartoons as unfeminine and bossy. This is the consequence a strong, assertive woman in the government must face. Men do not face these same criticisms. No one ever hears in the media about how George W. Bush had very heavy bags under his eyes at an event or about Joe Biden’s receding hairline. These male political figures can also be authoritative without fearing criticism of being too controlling. These criticisms are subject to only women in government, and the only criticism that men face are relevant to their political positions and duties.
Men who do gain attention on their physical characteristics are not for attractiveness levels, but rather their health. Chris Christie, Governor of New Jersey, is a potential nominee for the 2016 presidential election. He is an obese male, and his size has been the subject of much attention (see right).
“It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World”: Argues that examination of current social practices & discourse reveals the continued existence of a double standard for men & women in relation to how they are seen in public life in the US. Points to treatment of specific political figures as examples.
10. From “Setting the Standard”:
To most of the world the Beijing Olympics was just another summer Olympic Games with a stunningly beautiful Opening Ceremony, and an equally astounding Closing Ceremony at the end of the Games. For China it was a way for them to show, like the United States had in 1876 with the Centennial Exposition, how far they had come as a nation. Everyone can agree, however, that the Opening Ceremonies for the 2008 Olympic Games really set the standard for all future Olympic Games. While everyone else in preceding Games had done something somewhat small, especially in comparison, to say “hey, look at us! Look at this neat little trick we can do,” China completely stepped it up, and may have even turned the Ceremonies themselves into a competition. . . .
In her book, Lessons from China, Amy Werbel said one of her students compared the Beijing Olympics to America’s Centennial Exposition of 1876. For the United States, fresh out of the Civil War, it was a way to show the world that we had come a long way from being just a collection of colonies on the East Coast a hundred years before. For a country celebrating it’s one-hundredth birthday, it was something of a coming out party, where, even though they gave a nod to the rest of the countries in the world, America was the star of the show. The 2008 Olympic Games was for China what the Centennial Exposition was for the United States, a coming out party (Werbel). In my opinion, it was also a way for China to step up and accept the challenge of making this the Chinese Century.
Once upon a time, the Opening Ceremonies were all about the athletes. They consisted of the athletes being marched out, as they still are today, to the sound of applause. In recent decades, however, it’s turned into a display of “look what we can do!” Unsurprisingly, in my opinion, it was the United States who started this in the 1984 Games in Los Angeles. Of course, that year’s Opening Ceremony was nowhere near the display that China created for their Games. After Los Angeles, the host countries each tried to do something special, in an attempt to one-up one another. It was said that “those ceremonies [including and following the 1984 Games in Los Angeles] were all a prelude to the show-stopping, show-starter in Beijing. When the Olympics came to China for the first time, the world’s most populous nation was acutely ready for its long anticipated showcase.” The China Daily reportedly declared it as “China’s proudest night” (Forde). It would be impossible to think it wasn’t China’s proudest night, or at least one of its proudest nights.
As a spectator, watching the Opening Ceremonies nearly six years ago was outstanding, even though it was only on a television screen. . . .
“Setting the Standard”: Looks at the Opening ceremonies to the Beijing Olympics as a cultural event. Argues for the significance of these opening ceremonies in terms of “setting a new standard.” Does this by comparing Olympic opening ceremonies before & after. Also talks about the impact of seeing the opening ceremonies on her (even though it was just on tv).
11. From “Mr. Mom”
As the economy gets worse and prices inflate, it is absolutely essential for both the man and woman in the household to bring in an income. A family of four, for example, cannot survive on just one income now. Although everything sounds great, there is a major problem still. Men are only part time parents, and aren’t expected to come home and clean and cook. Women are still expected to do these things, and as stated before, it puts an enormous amount of stress on the woman. Divorce rates are really high in today’s society because either there isn’t enough money coming in to pay all the bills, or there is so much stress in the household from things not being done around the house that someone gets fed up. In fact, “50 percent of marriages in America end in divorce”(Beary). This number is way too high and is a direct result of men being part time parents. As a male child from a divorced family, I think it is important to honor these issues and legitimately come up with a solution to them for the future.
Men should see the impact of the women’s rights movement and take some action of their own. Before, women said “why couldn’t we be doctors and get degrees?” Well, men should ask the question “why can’t we make an impact in our child’s lives and be homemakers?” See, instead of a woman being both a full time worker and full time homemaker, and the man being a full time worker and part time homemaker, both the man and woman should be full time workers and homemakers. It enriched women to expand their knowledge and abilities and get out of the house. Similarly, it could enrich men to expand their roles to become homemakers. Every parent is proud when his or her child grows up and becomes successful. There is a sense of self worth that you had a positive impact on your child’s life. Men should realize that women don’t have to be the only ones that can achieve self worth from being an involved parent. My father left my family when I was about 6 years old, and therefore was never an involved parent in my life. I had a conversation with my father this past month, and he was very apologetic and upset with himself. See, he missed out on my whole childhood; he never got a chance to positively impact my life. Men should take this example as what not to do.
“Mr. Mom”: Analysis of social role of the “father” in today’s US society, and argument that it needs to be changed to set equal expectations for both fathers & mothers. Argues from personal experience. A sort of call for men’s “equal rights” in the home.
12. From “Is College a Choice?”:
In an article in the New York Times Dale J. Stephens talks about how going to college is pounded into the minds of young high school students, by their parents, teachers, and counselors. He even states, “It has been made clear that if you do not get good grades and attend a four year college, the rest of your life will be a dismal failure” (Stephens). This quote portrays what a majority of other people believe and preach to kids in high school, but where did this belief come from, and has it always been this way?
Well I intended to find out! I decided it would be beneficial to conduct a survey. I found this to be my best option because I only looked at this issue from the point of view of one college aged student. I could bet that my view differed from other college aged students, as well as other people from different generations that went to schools years ago. To conduct my survey, which was called “College Pressure”, I only asked two very simple questions: Did you feel pressured or persuaded by your parents, teachers, or counselors to go to college? Would your parents be disappointed and upset with you if you did not attend college? The group that I surveyed consisted of 20 college aged students, from multiple colleges (age 18 – 22) and 10 older generation adults, some who had gone to college and some who did not (age >50). Out of the 20 college-aged students that I surveyed, 16 said that they felt pressured or persuaded by their parents, teachers, or counselors to go to college, and 18 stated that their parents would be disappointed and upset if they did not attend college. Out of the 10 older generation adults that I surveyed, 2 said that they felt pressured or persuaded by parents, teachers, or counselors to go to college, and 3 stated that their parents would have been disappointed and upset had that not attended a college.
Why are the answers from these two generations so different? Well the societies in which they grew up were very different. A couple of generations ago college was not nearly as common as it is now. Fifty years ago or more, there were a lot fewer students who followed their high school education with college. According to Lumina magazine, “Prior to the 1950s, fewer than two of every 10 high school graduates went on to college” (Kinzie, et al). The small percent of population that did go to college were usually from the wealthy class. Back then, college was not at all necessary for finding a good job. One could simply take over a family business, or the family farm right after high school. Also, they could find a factory or business that would want to employ them for their lifetime. People with these jobs would make a good amount of money and have a stable and secure job for the rest of their lives, no college needed. That most likely is the reason for why the older generation adults answered the survey question the way they did; most did not feel pressure to attend college, and their parents
would not be upset if they had not.
Why were the survey answers from college-aged students now so different from those of older generations? Today it is much more difficult, sometimes even impossible to find a stable and secure job, especially right out of high school. No longer can one expect to leave right from high school and find a job that will pay them a good amount and plan to keep them on staff for a long time. More and more jobs now require students to have a degree before they will even look at them for a job interview. This current knowledge is alarming to parents. . . .
Like I said earlier, times have changed. In the present day, technology and the internet plays a huge role in our lives. It is easier now more than ever to find training courses and tutorials online. Perhaps one wants to open up their own business, they can simply go online a find many different resources that will teach them, whether it be for free or for a very small fee. Likewise, maybe there is someone who wishes to become a photographer, along with being able to find a lot of information online, they can talk with a current photographer to learn skills. The possibilities are endless, all of which never require someone to step foot on a college campus. I do realize that parents and teachers just want what is best for the kids, but in doing so, they are being too overbearing. They are taking away a young adult’s individualism and creativity by insisting that college is the only “right way” to find a career, and get a job. Parents, teachers, and counselors, I leave you with this… going to college is a choice, one that should not be made by you!
“Is College a Choice?”: Examines the cultural assumption that college is necessary for success in today’s world. Where did it come from, when did it start, and is it a correct assumption?
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