Where is Pollyanna's Albatross?Do you have an albatross around your neck?

Is your future carved in stone?

Speaking of stones, how do you get water from a stone?

Did the underground railroad shape your town?

Have you ever washed your hands of a decision?

Do you know any Pollyannas?

How many Leave it to Beaver families do you know anymore?


These expressions are more than idioms. They are allusions. They are small examples of our culture, including our Judeo-Christian roots, literary canon, historical experiences, and pop culture.

This week, I have been reading and researching for a new course I will teach in September. The course, WRTG 101: Writing and Culture, hopes to help international students improve writing skills through reading and writing about key cultural knowledge, called cultural literacy. This includes a lot of things - really everything we have spent our whole lives acquiring. For students who have not lived in the Western context, whether or not they speak English fluently, being able to understand the fullness, the richness of their studies here depends on developing cultural literacy. Imagine having only a few months (if that) in which to acquire everything that other students have taken in over 18 or 20 years. Well, I certainly won't be able to teach everything, but I hope to sort through and target some of the major influences. As I have been immersed in this study, I have been overwhelmed - yes, by the volume of work involved, but even more by the amazing intricacies of culture. It is humbling, indeed, to try to understand. You may find, too, that when you delve into a topic, you soon discover how complicated it is and how little you know. This is what I find exciting about education: you can never say, "Elementary, my dear Watson."


Last updated Jul. 24th, 2008 at 4:45pm by Melinda Dewsbury