Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Refusing to be dumbed down, teens tackle Dante for fun

This article by Heather Knight of the San Francisco Chronicle begins:

At first glance, the regular Saturday morning gatherings of friends over coffee, bagels and books could be any gaggle of intellectuals at any one of San Francisco's arty coffeehouses.

But look closer and the dozen friends sitting at a round, wooden table in the corner of the Morning Due Cafe are teenagers from Mission High and their young social studies teacher. They're studying Dante's "The Divine Comedy" together, and they do it for two hours every weekend.

Not for credits. Not for resume building. Just for fun.

Mission High is composed of mostly low-income, minority students, many of them new immigrants learning English. The school's curriculum concentrates largely on modern, multicultural literature as a way to engage students in reading. While Mission students do read a couple of Shakespeare's plays and a smattering of other classics before graduation, much of the Western canon never crosses their desks.

Callen Taylor, 30, teaches social studies at Mission and said many of her students lack "cultural currency." They have no knowledge of Greek mythology or Renaissance artists or ancient Rome.

She was made especially aware of their gap in knowledge when they returned to Mission last fall after having participated in a variety of summer programs along with wealthier students from other schools. They told her they'd felt intimidated.

"They felt like why are all the kids smarter than us?" Taylor recalled. "Why does everybody seem to know Greek mythology? How do they know Jupiter is the same as Zeus? A lot of people would take that for granted."

Her solution? The Dante Club...

There's more. It gets even better...

hat tip: The Book Den

4 comments:

Bookworm said...

That is a great story. And it's wonderful that young people in the one of the bluest areas in America can still find meaning in something written by a Eurocentric white man centuries ago.

On a different subject, thank you for the link and the blog update. I'm sorry it caused you so much heartache -- and I do feel your pain, since it's that same heartache that led me to abandon Blogger.

Barb, sfo said...

That is FABULOUS! I have always believed that students will rise to the occasion when presented with a great opportunity.

Kathryn Judson said...

I thought it was pretty cool myself. :)

I also thought it was better than average reporting, so I sent a thank you note to the reporter telling her I loved the story. I got a nice 'thank you for your thank you' back.

May I suggest that thanking reporters, editors, newspapers, stations, etc., for bringing us news like this is maybe something more of us (myself included) ought to do more often?

benning said...

I saw this at another blog - great minds, huh? - and was suitably impressed. There's hope, eh?