Today I had two girls come to extra help session from 1:45 to 2:30. Both are international students; one is South Korean and the other is mainland Chinese. They have a lot of difficulty understanding ancient texts, particularly when the translation in question is that of John Dryden’s Plutarch, describing Caesar’s assassination. Archaic, much?not to be believed.
Today I went through the text of Plutarch with them, identifying ten sentences which could serve as the core of their essays on the final exam next Tuesday. I highlighted the sentences in red, and put in a few marginal notes to help them grasp the core concepts of the text in the Simplest English I could think of.
Tomorrow I have three more students coming to extra help (they have a game today so they couldn’t come to extra help today).
But they may not be as frantic.
Because all the extra help I gave to the two girls today is on the wiki. It’s built into the Dryden translation of Plutarch now. The key sentences are highlighted in red, and my glosses of the complex grammar are in blue. Anyone in any of my classes can read them.
And all that extra help is available to future classes, too. It’s material that can be added to and built on and expanded. I can even record quick explanations of sentences and build them in as mini podcasts.
Those of us who read, and love reading in the traditional way, may be horrified. A text that talks in words other than its author, that highlights its own main ideas, that adds audio and visual commentary? It’s counter to what we believe a “text” should be.
Yet the goal of text, as Plutarch would have happily told you, was and is to transmit information across time and space. Cicero called it the message of ancient days. The Mormons do something similar with their baptism of the dead; and so should we do our best to reawaken ancient authors with technology. If we expect Dryden to do the mediation between Plutarch and today, the battle is lost, and the ancients will die. If we let our students and teachers digitize them, gloss them and reinvigorate them, then then ancient power of ancient text may become again a vibrant part of middle school learning.