So, one of the things I learned about acheter cialis while at the ACL Institute this past weekend in Memphis was that we have an apparent problem with students having “cultural literacy”. What exactly does this mean?
Whenever someone sets down to read anything, there are the words on the page and the meaning those words conjure up. The information that is deciphered, in some cases, from what we read can either be content-specific or culturally-specific.
Kenneth Kitchell points out that there is a serious problem in our field – that even though students have the tools and skills necessary to read Latin, they don’t have the framework to understand it. (For more information, see his paper “Latin III’s Dirty Little Secret: Why Johnny Can’t Read“). Our students are not culturally literate to the world of ancient Rome.
I can personally attest to this. Although students are interested in mythology, for example, there is not as deep of an understanding of the characters and their relationships from these stories to be able to read and understand the poetry of Ovid. And that is no slight – Ovid was writing for a very specific Roman audience that would have been immersed in that knowledge for the better part of their lives at that point. There was a deep tradition that these ancient writers were a part of and they were writing to show off to one another in most cases. So, how could a 15, 16, or 17 year old Latin student be dropped in that world and be expected to swim? Most likely, they will sink.
Let’s flip it. What if a Roman came to our time, via a wormhole or time machine (hey, use your imagination!), and was plopped right in front of a modern, Latin-fluent audience. Our Roman would be completely lost in today’s world despite our ability to communicate with him or her. Can we realistically expect our students, with our text-powered time machine, to be able to go back in time and get all of Plautus’ jokes?
Kitchell proposes several ideas to close this gap such as changing the way we assess our students and adapting our expectations. He talks about trying to allow students to get the “gist” of meaning, as opposed to looking up every single word to decode the language. This type of learning kills student enthusiasm and confidence in learning their craft. We want to inspire students to continue studying Latin and to continue reading anything in Latin they come across with confidence. Kitchell stresses that students should learn the meanings of words in context – as this is a more efficient means of learning and retaining information than just rote memorization from flash cards.
This is something I agree with whole-heartedly. I don’t force my students to learn English translations of Latin words because they need to be trained to think in Latin. When I have my students create flash cards, I have them collaborate as a class and I ask them to change the definition of the word in English to a picture or image that best describes or represents that word. So, instead of thinking “boy” for puer, they see an image of a boy instead. (I presented on this at the ACL Institute in Memphis in our presentation, “Fluency in Geek: Growing Classics Programs Through Technology” and will revisit this in a future article).
Yet the problem of how to bridge the gap on cultural literacy of our students is still a very open problem. One suggestion I propose is using available videos to help boost student background knowledge. One of the ways to achieve this would be to utilize sites like YouTube and create playlists around various topics that students need to know about from reliable sources (this is something I have undertaken with the RomaeTV channel). The trick there is reliable sources and sometimes, let’s face it, we’ll take what we can get on subjects to help students at least gain some information. We can always have a discussion about what is factual or not over a given video.
Which brings us to Kitchell’s most crucial point in all of this – prereading. Being aware that our students don’t have the same background knowledge, or in this case cultural literacy, as their Roman audience would have had (let alone Classics students only decades ago) means we need to help them by building a bridge to the material. Prereading strategies need to be focused on more and translation less. That is not to say translation doesn’t have its place – it is a way to demonstrate that students are aware of the nuances of the language (yet, I feel translation is not an efficient way to do that as we should be asking students to actively communicate in Latin, but you’ve got to crawl before you can run). Translation though is only done after the reading is mastered and as Mark Pearsall pointed out in his presentation for Teaching Greek at the Secondary and College Levels, translation is a grammar activity, not a reading activity.
And this is the point – we have to understand that there is a difference between doing the grammar of Latin and reading (and understanding) Latin. So although I may not have been familiar with the term “cultural literacy” and instead more familiar with the reading term “background knowledge”, there is definitely something to be gleaned from approaching Latin as a reading activity. Indeed a drastic shift may help revitalize Latin in the curricula across the nation. With Common Core standards coming on board, Latin, and its “contextualization”, could be a serious contender for savior of education in the near future. We just have to get this right.