Cultural Hegemony

When some people in power use their status, influence and wealth to manufacture consent from those for whom the system does not work as well or well at all, that’s cultural hegemony. Many people in power believe that the cultural systems we live within are working well for them and that they deserve these benefits.

Moreover, many disproportionately white people, even those on the downside of power who are not reaping the benefits from the economy, have been persuaded that decisions are being made fairly and resources are being allocated appropriately—even though people of color and women do less well on all of the measures of success in this country. They don’t question the political institutions they believe support their interests, or the educational and cultural systems they live within. They believe this is just the way things are.

Again, that’s cultural hegemony. It’s the subtle process that blinds us to how the socio-economic structures and cultural norms and values built into the social system work all the time to reproduce to maintain the status quo which includes inequities, inequalities, cultural biases and stereotypes. You can be blind to cultural hegemony whether you benefit from the status quo or when you’re being taken advantage of by others.

The Impact of Hegemony

Who is affected by cultural hegemony? Answer: Everyone. All the time.

That’s because cultural hegemony is made up of the laws, policies and cultural arrangements—the forces that shape every facet of our lives:

  • Government & Judiciary: the laws that are passed, the crimes that prosecuted, the sentences that are handed down;
  • Education: the funding and resources for K-12 schools, curriculum and tests content, access to higher education;
  • Healthcare: access to healthcare, how people are treated by doctors, nurses and pharmacies;
  • Careers & Housing: hiring decisions, offers for promotions & leadership positions, access to affordable housing & homeownership;
  • Civil Rights: often a lack of civil and reproductive rights for women, people of color and people who are LGBTQIA+.

Cultural hegemony is tough to wrap your head around because it’s so all inclusive and complex. It is difficult to see, yet you can feel it in the form of power in and over your own life in very personal ways. Power is not going away.

Also, the effects of cultural hegemony don’t always look negative. In fact, many of these effects may seem very good for some of you. Depending on your position in the social hierarchy and your privileges, you could consider yourself well served by hegemonic practices in our society.

But a hegemonic system that divides groups of people–by race, by gender identity, by social class or caste, or any other category–and prioritizes the needs of some over others, isn’t an equitable way to run our society and world.

Why Hegemony Matters

Why is it important to understand cultural hegemony? If you value living in a socially just and caring society it is extremely important. We need to recognize the systems that we live in, and the inequities that are baked into those systems. If you can’t see the systemic, social, cultural, economic and political mechanisms that cause inequities in society, or understand how and why these mechanisms were developed, you can’t change them!

And once we recognize the problem, we can do something to change it, so that everyone can benefit.

Terms to Know


A process where students adopt the norms values and practices that belong to the new culture while maintaining some of the norms and values of their old culture.

The American Dream

The idea that the United States is the land of opportunity where anyone who works hard enough will be able to have a better life. The phrase was coined in the 1930s.


A way for figuring out if a student has met the goals set by a learning plan.

Summative Assessment refers to measuring if a student has met the goals set by a learning plan at the end of an entire learning experience.

Formative Assessment refers to assessing students at various stages throughout the learning plan.

Both summative and formative assessment should be used to inform what students are taught next.

In order to track their own progress, students should know the goals of the lesson and how it will determined that the goals were met.

Basic Interpersonal Communicative Skills (BICS)

This is the conversational, social language spoken in a social setting that is often acquired to a functional level within about two years of initial exposure to the second language.

Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency (CALP)

This is the academic language that immigrant students need to learn to catch up to native speakers in academic aspects of the second language.

It usually takes at least five years to acquire the academic language necessary to success in academic study.

Charter Schools

Public schools that receive public funding but are able to operate according to a charter that may include policies and curricula that differ significantly from regular public schools.

(Socioeconomic) Class

 A person’s place within the socio-economic hierarchy. Class may be measured by:

  1. how much money they earn
  2. how much status they have

Status may be also be associated with the level of education they have received and/or with their association with a traditionally high status family.

For example, “the working class” or “the upper-middle class”.

Commercialization of Education

The process whereby education is seen, not as a right, but as a commodity that can be bought and sold.

Cultural Scripts / Narratives / Discourses

Different ways of thinking, feeling, believing, and acting in the world.

These scripts shape our subjectivities (identities), the categories we use to make sense of the world, the types of relationships we have with others, and what we consider to be legitimate objects of knowledge.

Cultural Traits

Different characteristics that we have learned from living in different cultural worlds. We come to embody these traits and express them in our interactions with others.

Culture Shock

The experience when a person finds themselves in a cultural context and feels their cultural markers moved.


The process by members of the dominant cultural groups have created situations (mission schools, slavery) in which “minority” social groups have been forced to give up their culture and adopt the cultural norms, values, beliefs and practices of the dominant group.


An exchange of ideas between two parties in which both parties are open to being changed by the other.

(Modern) Disciplinary Technologies of Power

The mechanisms by which an oligarchy maintains social control over the population in our major institutions.

Equality (in Education)

Equality is generally taken to mean giving to each student according to their needs. It does not mean “sameness.”

Equality is addressed in two processes based on specific ideological premises:

  • equality of opportunity
  • equality of educational opportunity

 Significant aspects of a person’s culture (food, religion, clothing, language) as well as their country or countries of ancestral origin and the ancestral pool(s) from which they came.

Funds of Knowledge

A program where teachers explore the different cultures that exist in their community.

Teachers use what they learn about another culture to inform what and how they teach in their classroom.

Hidden Curriculum

The indirect messages communicated by the organization and operation of schooling apart from the official or public statements of school mission and subject area curriculum guidelines.

The messages of hidden curriculum usually deal with attitudes, values, beliefs, and behavior.

For example, that reading and mathematics are the most important elementary school subjects is clearly if implicitly communicated by scheduling more time for these subjects than for others, such as science and social studies, scheduling them in morning prime time rather than in the afternoon, and testing them more often than other subjects or skills.


Discriminatory behavior towards LGBTQIA+ people (lesbians, gay men, bisexual people, transgender folk, and people questioning their sexuality).

Homophobia also refers to a person’s motivation, such as fear, antipathy or contempt for LGBTQIA+ people.

Multicultural Teaching Strategies

Critical, culturally relevant and responsive teaching strategies that meet the needs of all students.

Oral History

The process by which we ask significant others to tell us, orally, about their histories.  


When males control/govern females bodies, as well as family and other social institutional agenda.


The process whereby teachers reflect on what they are doing in terms of their theoretical beliefs at the same time as they teach.

Problem-posing Education

An approach to teaching developed by Paulo Freire.

“Reading the Word” & “Reading the World” (in Education)

“Reading the Word” is learning the skills and concepts in an educational discipline.

“Reading the World” is recognizing and in some cases re-cognizing, how the “word” will help students to “read the world” or find solutions to the problems of their everyday lives/attain the goals and dreams they have or would like to set for themselves/help their communities to achieve greater equity.

Sociogram (in Education)

A device that teachers construct to gain additional information about how their students view and interact with each other, and who they prefer to work and play with.

Sociograms provide additional information regarding student and how they prefer to interact with peers.

For example, teachers ask students to write down the classmate(s) they most like to work with. The results are then tabulated to show how many times each student was chosen and by whom. This information is then graphically plotted to identify social isolates, popular students, and disliked students. 

Repeating a sociogram may show changes in interaction patterns over time. The sociogram can be useful in a number of ways.

For example, knowing which students gravitate to each other and which students arethe principles of right and wrong that guide the moral choices made by individuals and social groups.
outliers may be useful in choosing work groups and finding ways to motivate student participation. The teacher may also use the sociogram as a check again their assumptions about the social patterns in the class. 

Value Orientation

The principles of right and wrong that guide the moral choices made by individuals and social groups.

Afrocentric Education

A movement that started in the 1970s due to the needs of African American students not being met in schools.

It uses African traditions relevant to African American youth from the past and present. It also includes traditions associated with Africa before Europeans made contact with African groups.


Where students switch out the norms and values taught in their own culture for the norms and values taught in the new society they live in.

Banking Education

A type of teaching where the teacher is seen as the expert and students are seen as lacking knowledge.

This approach to education has content that may be culturally irrelevant to students.

Brown vs. Board of Education

A lawsuit brought in 1954 in which the Supreme Court struck down Plessey vs. Ferguson (1986), by declaring that separate was not equal.

This decision ended legalized (de jure) official segregation including housing, transportation and schooling. Brown vs. Board of Education related to segregated schooling in Topeka, Kansas and the African American Brown family’s efforts to receive a quality education for their children.

Actual segregation (de facto) has always and still exists. It has been increasing in the last 30 years.

Caste-like/Involuntary Minorities

Individuals who were brought to the United States from other countries after being enslaved, such as conquered Indigenous and Chicano/a people and African Americans.

They are disproportionately poor and segregated U.S. citizens.

Civil Rights Act of 1964

A law signed by President Lyndon Baines Johnson on July 2, 1964. It was the most important Civil Rights legislation passed since the nineteenth century.

The act prohibited discrimination in public places. It made employment discrimination illegal and made the integration of schools and other public places possible.


A mindset where a person says they “do not see color”.

This is problematic because a a person’s color is an important part of who they are and should be celebrated.

“Not seeing color” also ignores the inequalities and inequities in society that should be addressed.


The process whereby corporations are able to convert the nation’s resources and treasures into private fortunes.

It includes increased emphasis on protecting corporate “rights” and granting “constitutional personhood” for businesses.

Cultural Competence

 A perspective as well as a set of skills that teachers need to develop if they are going to meet the needs of all of their students.

New teachers need time and support if they are to examine and realize how their own cultural identifications can play essential parts in their educational decisions and teachings in the classroom.


All of the different meanings we give to our different worlds—from our internal norms, values and beliefs, to the clothes we wear, the food we eat, and the music we listen to.


The content of school practice, both visible and hidden.

It includes everyday practices, school policies, and teachers’ agenda and assumptions, as well as more obvious school syllabi, textbooks, courses, workshops, and other educational content.

Deficit Theories

Theories based on the idea that if a students fail to do well in school, the problem lies with the student rather than considering the role of the school itself, teaching practices, organizational structures, curriculum content, teacher assumptions and expectations etc.


A socially constructed phenomenon. However, while one person’s disability might be another’s norm, disability as defined by the dominant/hegemonic education system has very specific definitions often, though not always, of a deficit nature.


An interdisciplinary process by which participants develop a sense of their own creativity and agency.

Equity (in Education)

Generally equated with fairness. For example, educators consider equity in terms of the distribution of resources within and between schools, the cultural relevance of the curriculum, and the ways in which teachers’ pedagogy engages all students in the curriculum.

Equity is related to social justice, which in turn is based on the concepts of human rights and equality.


The process by which we define an issue on our own terms. For example, in politics, the right and the left use different frames to explain their own ideological positions about abortion.

In education, teachers use different frames to explain why their students are not engaged in their curriculum.


A sex-based category on to which a set of cultural characteristics has been mapped.

Hidden Rules

The unconscious, cultural rules that govern the assumptions and practices of people who can be ascribed to three different socio-economic groups

  • “wealth”
  • “middle class”
  • “poverty”

The beliefs, attitudes, values and characteristics considered to be part of who someone is as an individual.

Multiple Intelligences / Modalities

A theory of different types of intelligence that differ radically from the notion of “G” (general) intelligence.

Participation Structures (in Education)

The ways in which educators organize how students participate in learning experiences. They include dialogue in a circle, seating in rows, and working in small groups.


The philosophy and practice of teaching.


Biased attitudes that can be negative or positive.


A socially constructed narrative that tells us that there are different categories of human beings with different characteristics, both physical and intellectual.


The process by which males oppress females.


Theories are abstract and conceptual structures, sets of ideas, and therefore never considered right or wrong. They are analytical tools for understanding and explaining a given subject matter.

There are theories in many different fields of study, and of many different types. They are always tentative, supported or challenged by observations in the world. They are proposed as true but expected to satisfy careful examination to account for the possibility of faulty inference or incorrect observation.

Theories are expected to be functional—tools to resolve problems. In the Eurocentric tradition, they are expected to be the simplest possible tools that can be used to effectively address a given class of phenomena.

A Falsified Theory is one that is held on to even when one or more of its basic assumptions are contradicted by observations or other evidence.

Theories are more often revised to conform to new observations or evidence. This revision may include changing what the theory claims or limiting the group or class of phenomena to which the theory applies.


A complex, hegemonic, and dynamic set of mainstream socioeconomic processes, and ways of thinking, feeling, believing, and acting (cultural scripts) that function to obscure the power, privilege, and practices of the dominant social elite.

Whiteness drives oppressive individual, group, and corporate practices that adversely impact schools, the wider U.S. society and, indeed, societies worldwide.

At the same time, whiteness reproduces inequities, injustices, and inequalities within the educational system and wider society.