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