Monthly Archives: February 2015

Battle of the Roots! Latin vs. German

The other day in my English Undergraduate TA class, I debated with a fellow student who asserted that she thought Latin should be a required subject for all middle or high schoolers to learn. I argued against it, since I believe our Germanic roots are equally as important.

For those of you English language nerds, I’m sure most of you are familiar with the language’s Anglo-Saxon/Germanic roots that were mixed with Old French/Latin roots sometime around the first millennium AD. Over the years, the Latin-based vocabulary and grammar has overshadowed much of the Germanic. Chances are, you probably didn’t learn about this until college or after, and while this isn’t really problematic, it does have implications for secondary education.

While the professor shut the Latin v. German debate down just as soon as it started, I gave it more thought in conversation with a friend of mine. I thought of a couple more reasons why compulsory Latin education might not be ideal.

  1. Most languages currently available in secondary schools are already Romance languages. Just learning these can teach students a lot about their own diction and grammar use in English, and often the learning of these languages is very practical. I have never met a Latin student who used it in casual or professional conversation or correspondence.
  2. Latin’s grammar rules often don’t fit together well with Germanic grammar rules and diction. Though I often write the phrase in academic essays to avoid getting points docked off, I cringe when I see the phrases “of which to be” or “to whom” just to avoid using a preposition at the end of a sentence. Latin has its place, but German-rooted languages tend to be a lot more direct and concise.
  3. Compulsory education in any language aside from a nation’s official language(s) also asserts a kind of cultural superiority, which then deems other cultures inferior. I learned both French and Chinese in high school and college. I actually felt I learned more about the English language through my studies in Chinese since it was a very different language. While requiring students to learn Latin might help them learn their English word roots which may help them take the SAT (a subject for another day), Chinese or Spanish could be just as easily required for their extended practical use in light of the US’s current economic and socio-political situation.

Personally, I would like to learn Anglo-Saxon. I think it sounds and looks cool, and would give me a new perspective on the evolution of the English language to the present. I’ve never heard of a high school that offered it, but I would have gladly taken it if it where offered in mine.

So what do you think? Do you think Latin should be a required subject in secondary schools? Should more schools offer Anglo-Saxon in high schools? Let me know in the comments!

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My First Peer Review Workshop: Some Reflections

This semester I am a TA for and English literature class on Women on the Plantation. Essentially, we read works from many genres (journals, letters, narratives, etc.) from and about plantation mistresses and slave women during the Antebellum period to the beginnings of Reconstruction. Whew, that was a mouthful. Today though, I didn’t talk much, because today was the peer review workshop for their first paper.

This was a different experience for me. While I’m used to leading discussions, lecturing, or splitting up students for short group activities, I’ve never structured the entirety of class around students helping each other write. I can’t take the entirety of the credit for organizing this class, since my professor had a solid review and revision checklist. I did however, present, explain, and aid the workshop.

Usually I get really nervous when I turn students loose for too long. When you invite them to discuss, it can sometimes turn to off-topic chatter. To deal with this, I migrated from group to group to listen in (something I rarely have the courage to do), only interjecting if they were silent, had questions, or if they were having trouble. I found that with sparse but strategic involvement on my part, I could re-enliven the discussion and guide their thoughts back to the task at hand. Off-topic chatter isn’t all bad though–it allows students to get to know each other and to talk about things that interest them, which is crucial to fostering an safe environment for students to voice their opinions.

Although this class boosted my confidence as a teacher, I think there were a couple things I could do to improve the next workshop. I think I’m going to keep my professor’s suggestion of making students bring in one copy for each author to read aloud and an extra copy for two peer reviewers to follow along and make notes. Instead of letting them choose their groups every time, it might be best to assign them to groups at random or put certain students together strategically for scaffolding. This helps students learn a wider variety of writing techniques and allows them to communicate with more of their fellow classmates. I also think it might be a good idea to have each student bring in a short memo detailing their purpose, audience, main points/main techniques in with their rough drafts so that their peers can understand where they are coming from. I’ve done this in professional writing classes, but I think it could be adapted well in the English literature classroom.

Well that’s all folks. If I get another sudden burst of creativity, I’ll keep you posted.

Reading Response: The Social Construction of Gender

While the reading in Literature for Today’s Young Adults this week focused on realistic fiction, I want to focus my attention on the Critical Encounters chapter about “The Social Construction of Gender.” Overall, this chapter gave a refreshing take on how to present feminist/gender theory to the classroom. Appleman creates a variety of activities to teach students, male and female, how to look at texts and their world through a feminist lens. Probably the most unique activity put forth in the chapter is Appleman’s exercise investigating how gender role constructions affect male characters in a text.

I believe this kind of activity is crucial to open the minds of young men and women to see the point of feminist discourse. It make it painfully apparent that the dominant patriarchal worldview has disempowered everyone regardless of sex or gender identification. By acknolwedging and exploring the many ways that men are affected by the gender constructions of our society, we show that feminism does not just advocate for women’s rights. We show students, who may be afraid to advocate for feminism based on mistaken notions that feminists are man-haters, that men have a stake in this too.

Iggy has the right idea.

However, there was something that nagged me throughout the chapter. Early on, Appleman announces that she will be using feminist and gender theory interchangeably. While she concedes that “theoretical purists may rightfully object to the renaming,” she also asserts that this renaming is to ensure that “feminist theory is not limited to only women writers or women’s experiences” (67). Now renamed, “Gender theory,” she continues, “provides us with a way of recognizing and naming other visions while promoting our own ways of seeing” (68). As a woman who was raised by a strong single mother who was a staunch advocate of feminist causes to protect both women and men, this insistence on renaming was like a slap in the face. While I see that the name may be less imposing to students, I also think the point of feminism is not just to advocate women’s views, but to show how the patriarchy as a whole is a power system that corrupts and oppresses everyone. Also, by avoiding calling it feminism, we inadvertently delegitimize the feminine stake in the issue, which I feel undermines the point of the theory/worldview in favor of a still-more male-centric view.

For a male perspective on this issue, I invite you to watch this awesome TedTalk: 

I want to hear what you think: do you think we should call this lens “feminist,” “gender,” or use both terms interchangeably in teaching the concept to students?