Health Literacy?

lincoln / 20 - Inside Higher Ed

This article, entitled "A Different Kind of Test," is about Lincoln U.'s graduation requirement that its students have a BMI below 30 or complete a "Fitness for Life" class. Setting aside the potential legal implications, it is an interesting method for ensuring that students are informed, that is educated, about health.

The chair of Lincoln's Health department is quoted, "This country’s in the midst of an obesity epidemic and African-Americans are hit hard by obesity and diabetes. We need to address this problem directly with our students.”
(Lincoln University is an HBCU.)
Seems like cultural literacy is also at play in this decision.

Health education has historically been a requirement in the public school system. What do you think of health/cultural literacy as a requirement on the university level?


One Fell Swoop, Cultural Literacy at Work

I was commenting on Belle's Literacy Blog today and I used a phrase I absolutely knew the meaning of but had no idea how or when I acquired this. Happens all the time, right? Now that we've embarked on a discussion of cultural literacy, I'm encouraged to think deeply about these vague notions of ideas as I encounter them in my life. My comment to her post poignantly phrased "If you learn to understand, then, you'll be understood" was:
I appreciate your ways with words (cultural reference intended).
I especially enjoyed your synopsis/views on our November 4th class. Cultural literacy is such a daunting subject to tackle because it is the nexus of our beings and it encompasses our ever-evolving philosophy as educators.
In one fell swoop, you've addressed the personal and the abstract.
(Having just used a phrase I'm sure is an example of the vague notions that entail Hirsch's cultural literacy, I'll have to do some research and post my findings.)

So I looked up "one fell swoop" and found that, of all the people in all the places, it was popularized by Shakespeare in Macbeth!

Michael Quinion of World Wide Words shares,
The phrase is one of those fixed expressions that we hardly think about most of the time. It means all at once, suddenly. It’s been around in the language for at least 400 years. Shakespeare is first recorded as using it, in Macbeth: when Macduff hears that his family has been murdered, he says in disbelief:

All my pretty ones?
Did you say all? O hell-kite! All?
What, all my pretty chickens and their dam
At one fell swoop?

The image that Shakespeare’s audience would have brought to mind at once was a falcon plummeting out of the sky to snatch its prey (like the kite for example, which was a bird of prey long before it became an aerial machine). You might guess that fell has something to do with fall, but it hasn’t. It actually means some thing of terrible evil or deadly ferocity. We now never see it outside this fixed phrase (or perhaps only occasionally in poetic use) but once it was a common word in its own right. One of its relatives is still about: felon, which comes from the same Old French source, fel, evil. Originally a felon was a cruel or wicked person; only later did the word evolve to mean a person who commits a serious crime.

Other similar answers can be found by your favorite search engine.

Have you experienced of cultural literacy in a similar manner?
Share your thoughts and we can compare notes.

21st Century Skills

This week, our Theories and Models of Literacy class is discussing 21st Century Literacy Skills. And what drops into my inbox from eSchool News but an article about 21st Century skills? Entitled
New 21st-century skills guide available
by Meris Stansbury, Associate Editor, the article begins:

"In yet another step toward helping schools and their students achieve 21st-century success, the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21) has released a new guide intended to help schools and districts evaluate the integration of 21st-century skills into their policies and practices.

The collection of tools, called the Milestones for Improving Learning and Education (MILE) Guide, initially was released six years ago. Owing to changes in some of the skills that students will need to learn to succeed in the global economy, the guide has been revised and updated."

The link to the full article is: or

Since the guide is free, I think there's no harm in including a link to it as well:

As stated in the MILE guide, it includes:

The MILE Guide Self-Assessment Tool
A visual mapping and self-assessment tool that allows districts to 1) plot where they are
today on the spectrum of 21st century skills integration, and 2) chart a course for more
effective integration of 21st century skills into their systems of learning.

Implementation Guiding Recommendations
Adapted from the P21 State Implementation Guides, these
recommendations include promising practices to illustrate how
districts can implement a 21st century skills model for learning.

P21 Framework
The most up-to-date P21 Framework that spells out expectations
for 21st century student outcomes and the necessary support
systems at the state and local levels.

Online MILE Guide
A streamlined version of the MILE Guide
Self-Assessment Tool will be available online at

For those of you who are in or preparing to enter the education field, what do you think of this guide/tool?

Embracing a Multicultural Rhetoric

Lisle, Bonnie, and Sandra Mano. "Embracing a Multicultural Rhetoric." Writings in Multicultural Settings. Ed. Severino, Carol, Juan C. Guerra, and Johnnella E. Butler. NY: MLA, 1997. Print.

While I take issue with some of the assumptions inherent in this article's rationale for a multicultural rhetoric, I do agree with the insistence on the transformation of ideas and curriculum in the classroom to embrace and pursue multiple cultural perspectives.  According to the authors, a multicultural rhetoric helps “students recognize patterns of exclusion and power within dominant discourses and resist or challenge those patterns when they are disabling” (21).  With assignments and activities that are considered by some as unconventional and employ multiple intelligences it fosters innovation to help “students not only appreciate the strengths and limitations of academic thinking but also to challenge its boundaries” (24).  And a multicultural rhetoric works with the cultural conflicts students encounter in the academy to help them make conscious choices.
Now for the issues; I’ll stop at 3 to spare you.
1) In making their claim that some texts “make unwarranted assumptions” about students’ backgrounds, the authors quote from the introduction of a text by Elbow and Belanoff:
Like all writers, you’re already a sophisticated user of your native language.  When you speak, you don’t consciously think about words…Unless you are scared, subject and verbs usually agree, sentence structures work, vocabulary is appropriate…
Lisle and Mano then explain that the text assumes the reader possesses “a native’s fluency and knowledge of social customs” and s/he is “middle-class and fully assimilated into the dominant culture.”  I can concede to the recognition of the role of dominant culture for subject-verb agreement since sentence structure in some languages does not require such a construct but then my view departs.  The quote seems to me like words meant to reassure the novice writer (as intended).  Since when does “your native language” equate to “dominant culture?”  I surmise some leap has taken place.  If “your native language” does mean more than your native language then it could more likely equate to your family/community dialect, in which case, Elbow and Belanoff’s statement retains its intended effect without necessarily alienating students.
2) In the section entitled “Cultural Constructs of Identity,” Lisle and Mano note that some students find personal writing difficult because “individual constructs of self are foreign” and because “such writing is fraught” (15) with risk; notably this risk concerns revealing painful memories.  The authors ignore the writer who prefers not to write about personal experience because s/he has decided it’s “none of your business.”  Only in the closing of the section is this scenario (just barely) acknowledged.
3) The discussion of plagiarism in the section “Redefining the Writer’s Role” notes that scholars had discovered that MLK “had ‘plagiarized’ extensively in his sermons and writings.”  The authors name Keith Miller who counters the plagiarism argument as “voice merging,” and they quote his notion that “ministers ‘borrow partly because their culture fails to define the word as a commodity.’”  My knowledge of sermon preparation and my experience of sermons presented in various religions/cultures confirms that many religious leaders do not cite their sermon guides and planners when presenting their sermons in either oral or written form much in the way that teachers do not cite their guides when delivering a lesson to students.  Perhaps the scholars mentioned lacked this cultural knowledge.  I can see the merit in using the MLK example to extend a discussion of cultural misunderstandings but to explain it as the culture’s failure is a gross misrepresentation.  That the authors provided no qualification or explanation of the quote in their own words is noteworthy.  As the saying goes, silence gives consent.
Moreover, when E.D. Hirsch Jr. writes in “Literacy and Cultural Literacy” that his father sometimes wrote in a business letter “There is a tide” (9) borrowing words from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, it was (is) not plagiarism, it was (is) a deft use of language based on cultural knowledge.  Could not a person excluded from the dominant culture have done (do) the same?  Is that not Hirsch’s desire and Lisle and Mano’s partial aim (for students would not appreciate the strengths of academic thinking only with acquisition thereof)?

Lisle and Mano’s envisioned multicultural rhetoric is sensible and worth careful consideration.  I wondered, however, while reading about it whether they had fully embraced the values they so diligently insist upon.