Preface: Cultural Literacy Redefined

In a stack of papers called Reading.

  • Jul
  • 27
  • 2006

Trent, this series is for and because of you. You’ll see why in the next entry if you don’t already see where I’m going. To others, given the six5guy mission statement (on the left sidebar of the site), I’m happy that he found my site worth reading and worth making note of to his readers. Take a look at his “brain food” entries. That’s good fodder for blogging.

Holding the slightly crumpled piece of paper, I felt unsure and a little wary. Furled brow and a concentrated stare didn’t make things any clearer. I didn’t dare turn the paper sideways, a silly literal effort to get a metaphoric “different view” of the writing. The writing, while not horrible, contained terms standing out as either misspelled or invented, blocking the path between me and perfect comprehension.

It was my first year of teaching, during a hot April day in a stifling portable classroom. The smell of those rooms, and they all smell the same way, mixes equal parts plywood dust and plaster odor. Walking past an open door takes me back all those years, the range of emotions I felt sitting in the room late, each day frantically planning for the next. I hope I never have one of those rooms again, for fear that those feelings of inadequacy and confusion will sidle up for a reunion with me.

On that day, a part of me foolish enough to avoid confrontation with the author to ask for clarification reigned; I wanted to send a message that I knew what was going on, that I was both a hip and informed reader. The author, Jeremy, one of my “projects” that year, left me hoping each day that he would not only show up to class but also would be accompanied by his completed homework.

My wish was granted in the form of this paper, twisted against me in a cold irony. I had his completed homework, but I couldn’t make sense of his point to truly evaluate it.

Finally, with a heavy internal sigh, I called him over to my desk. A shock of blonde hair and freckles stood up and swaggered over to the chair I pulled out for him, an everlasting smile on his face, an expression that he brought to any discussion.

During the short and painless conversation, he casually explained the various slang terms and references in that slightly crumpled piece of paper I held. Nearby students nodded their heads as he answered my questions, all of them confirming their common knowledge. Among the terms learned that day, “get with” means something slightly different than “hit it,” which is what Romeo and Juliet did on the night of their doomed wedding. In fact, there’s a hierarchy of sexual slang. “Scrill” is money and is the reason behind almost all decisions people make. I recall a reference to a Smashing Pumpkins song, a popular band at the time that’s since broken up and that never appealed to my musical sensibilities too much.

For all my years of college education and my age and my status as teacher in the classroom, I didn’t know what the students all around me understood so deeply that they didn’t even think to clarify. Was I culturaly literate?

On Monday: Definitions

1 comment

1. six5guy says:

[7/31/2006 - 8:03 am]

[…] ยท Todd Seal, a teacher and an excellent writer, is starting an interesting series on defining cultural literacy, apparently spawned (in part) from this earlier six5guy post. Read the first two parts: Cultural Literacy Redefined – Preface and Definitions. […]