10 September 2010

On reference and allusion

(The link is to an earlier post which alludes to this)

Last night we had an induction session for the new intake of an established part-time course. For reasons beyond our control (the economic squeeze and an aggravating change in funding arrangements) we did not hit the threshold numbers and so it appeared the course would have to be cancelled. (The situation today is rather different, I'm happy to say.)

But as we were discussing the situation with the new potential intake, it occurred to me that they had a vested interest in doing some recruiting, so I encouraged them jokily to "go into the highways and hedgerows and compel them to come in" (Luke 14:23) ...to be met with totally blank looks of incomprehension. It wasn't even a particularly multi-cultural group, but it appeared that no-one picked up the quotation.

Perhaps it is just me, but I am increasingly frustrated/disappointed that I can't take for granted that even mature students will appreciate allusions and references, not only to the Bible but to Shakespeare and the literary canon, and historical events and political slogans...

But as someone pointed out last year--I haven't a clue about references to recent music in particular, or TV. Am I simply being elitist? (I'm guilty as charged on being elitist is some respects) Or is our communication impoverished by not sharing a cultural hinterland which enriches dialogue with such references?

Or, of course, has the insistence of managing with such a shared code been a covert means of limiting access to privileged education and employment to those who have had the surplus time and resources to join what has always been a restricted club? (Yes, but how much has it mattered?)

And what does it mean for how we express ourselves as teachers?

[Addition, 11.09 --how could I have missed the opportunity to link to the Beloit College Mindset list? Obviously it is highly US-centric, but it makes a telling descriptive but definitely not prescriptive point.]

1 comment:

  1. Allusion presupposes a shared point-of-reference, which in turn implies a common cultural frame-of-reference.

    If a Muslim made a reference to a Koranic quote, should a non-Muslim immediately be assumed to understand it?

    If a Chilean quotes a line from a Pablo Neruda poem, is a non-Chilean honestly expected to recognize the reference to be considered literate?

    The obvious answer in both cases is, "No."

    It's not necessarily about the students failing to understand your (our) references, but your (our) failure and/or inability to recognize what relevantly connects to our students.

    And that is a reality that increasingly embraces all the cultures of the world without an arbitrary hierarchy of importance of specific cultural content.

    We, the teachers, have to adapt.



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