Cultural Literacy and The Uncommon Reader

If you love all things English (as in, England) and anything that involves reading and writing, you must read  The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett. At a mere 120 pages, it's actually a novella, and it is perhaps one of the most charming little books I have ever read. I borrowed a copy from the public library, but I simply must have a copy of my own. On the Christmas list it goes!

Despite its compact nature, I found the text to be a bit challenging because of Bennett's broad vocabulary and because of the setting and characters, namely England and the Queen of England. Bennett, being British, easily writes with intimate knowledge of the inner workings of England's monarchy. I found myself jotting down questions, looking up definitions (see the end of the post for two of my favorites), and Googling madly for information to clarify my confusion. For example, at one point, Bennett slipped in a reference to Nahlin and Mrs. Simpson.  I was already familiar with Wallis Simpson, having watched The King's Speech,  but I had no idea what Nahlin was or how Wallis Simpson was connected. Now I do. Essentially, I took the opportunity to broaden my cultural literacy.

Cultural literacy requires one to possess knowledge, both historical and contemporary, of different cultural groups as well as their own. People who purposefully cultivate their cultural literacy not only expand their minds, but they gain the ability to see issues from different points of view. They learn to understand, respect, and appreciate how the ideologies and customs of other cultures impact their own world. And, I find that they are just so darn interesting to talk to!

I have spent time in classrooms where students' academic curiosity, let alone their cultural curiosity, is severely lacking. This causes concern because in order for today's young students to morph into successful adults, they need cultural awareness. One of the best - and easiest - ways for them to gain this knowledge is by reading. We have to get engaging books, magazines, Internet articles, Tweets, cereal boxes, chip packaing (Takis, yum!) in front of these kiddos!

[Stepping off soap box]

As promised, here are two of my new favorite vocabulary words:

amanuensis - a literary assistant; secretary
opsimath - one who continues, or begins, to learn late in life
Aren't they beautiful? And fun to say, too!

Thanks for reading! It keeps your ...  Mind Full of Literacy

What's In a Name?

I often wonder how people, places and objects get the names they have. Some names are very straightforward, and the reasoning behind how the names came to be are obvious (history, topography, family tradition, function). But other names, like nicknames, music album titles, and some baby names (be honest, you've wondered at times) are an enigma. And there is usually a great story behind them.

For example, my nickname in certain circles in MOOSE. If you saw me in person and heard someone call me MOOSE, your brain would jolt and pause and ponder because I am very much on the petite side. I have zero moose-like qualities. However, in other circles I'm called Mari With An Eye. That one is obvious because my name is Mari, spelled with an "i" instead of a "y."

Another example: A few weeks back I had the opportunity to listen to the jazz band, The Project H, live at The Brick. I am not a jazz expert by any means, but I do listen to it from time to time. As the band jammed out, and as I've listened to the copy of the CD I bought after their set since that night, I found myself wondering about the inspiration behind the titles of jazz songs. The Project H titles include Becoming Light, Fixing Broken, and Water Torture. I would love to sit down with a band member and find out the why. 

Here is where all of this is leading ...

With my first post on this blog, I just jumped right in. For my second post, I wanted to share the inspiration behind the blog's title, Mind Full of Literacy. On the surface, you can take the name literally. I have a passion for literacy. I love learning new ideas, reading the research, discussing the various aspects, and helping people - especially young students - realize and accept the essential role literacy plays, and will always play, in their lives. My mind is literally full of literacy. But the title is also a play on words, as in mindful of literacy. I want to continue to be - and encourage you to be -aware of the types of literacies you engage in each and every day. It also invites us to be mindful of both our literacy strengths and the literacy areas we would like to strengthen. For me, that's a never- ending journey.

Thanks for reading! It keeps your ... Mind Full of Literacy!

Inaugural Post

Since this is a big election year, I thought my inaugural (get it? Election ... Inaugural) post could be about political literacy.

I am not a political guru. Sure, I have my opinions but they are not often based on a wealth of information. Essentially, I am politically illiterate. I'm not proud of it. I know I should be more aware of the issues. But it just gets so darn confusing, and it's tough for me to decipher who is telling the truth. And frankly, despite my good intentions to educate myself, when election time rolls around the bickering and sidestepping just wear me out.

Yet, the responsibility to educate ourselves, our students, and our children about America's political process remains. And I truly believe it is an important responsibility.

As a teacher, I enjoy Scholastic's materials. (This is not an endorsement, just a statement of fact.) The company currently has a set of 2012 Election Skills Books available for grades K-10. According to the e-mail I received, the books have critical thinking exercises, graphs, charts, and maps (visual literacy!) for classrooms to read, think about, and discuss. What a great way to sharpen the political literacy skills of our future leaders!

Thanks for reading! It keeps your ...  Mind Full of Literacy!