From Stale to Fresh

Oddly enough, after my celebration of fresh, locally sourced food and learning yesterday, I had dinner at a favorite chain restaurant last night.  The food was predictably good, but the service (which is always friendly, but sometimes predictably slow at this busy location right near the Interstate) was unusually speedy and even more friendly than usual.  And this morning, it “just happened” that I had to pick up a quick breakfast on an early errand … and I knew that, if I was very lucky, Miss Belinda would wish me a blessed and wonderful day as she smiled and handed me my order through the drive-through window.

And she did.

Even the most standard and standardized organization can still have pockets of fresh, locally sourced creativity … and even the most fresh, locally sourced organization still conforms to some external standards.  There’s a continuum, not a set of polar opposites, and lots of different factors can move you from one place on that continuum to another.

For example, last night I wanted a reliably good meal, I wanted meat loaf as the entree, I didn’t have the ingredients in the house, and I didn’t want to drive all the way across town during rush hour.  There’s one excellent local restaurant that makes a great meat loaf, but it’s on the other side of town.  There’s a place nearby that often has meat loaf, but the lines tend to be long and there’s something in the air that activates my allergies from time to time.  The grocery store isn’t far away, but meat loaf takes a while to cook.  Under the circumstances, the favorite chain restaurant was the best (and actually the only) available choice.  This morning, given where and when my early errand had to happen, there was only one available place for breakfast.

Sometimes the standard and standardized approach to learning is the only available choice, too.  For a long time, if you wanted to learn a language like Latin, standard and standardized textbooks seemed like the only option … especially if you were an independent adult learner or a homeschooling family.  To be fair, you can learn a lot about Latin, especially about its grammar, its historical development, and the culture and history of people who have spoken it, from a standard and standardized textbook.  Textbooks are great at presenting information about a subject, and so are textbook-like online programs, especially the ones that build in frequent checks for understanding and won’t let you go on until you can answer the question correctly.

But often, after months or years of learning about Latin and the Romans from a textbook, you realize that you don’t actually know the language or the culture the way you hoped you would.  You may be able to analyze and describe the grammatical function of every word in a sentence, and you may even be able to talk about the historical context and the author’s biography.  But can you hear and see those words and understand the author’s message for yourself?

If you can’t, all that knowledge about language, culture, and history will eventually feel stale.  And you (or your favorite young learner, who can recite all those charts perfectly and use all the mnemonic devices beautifully) might just be hoping for something fresh instead.

Can you move from stale to fresh?  I’ve seen it happen with students in my face-to-face classes, especially the ones who had an introductory Latin experience with one of those chart-driven, standard and standardized textbooks.  And I’m looking forward to seeing it happen this fall with participants in a Gifted Homeschoolers Forum online class called “From Parts to Whole: Making Latin Make Sense.”

Here’s the official description:

For learners of all ages who have learned some Latin grammar and vocabulary by a “chart and list” approach, but who want a more meaningful, deeper understanding and experience of the language. We’ll use the same materials as the Introduction to Latin class, but we’ll go at a faster pace—and we’ll discover that Latin and the Romans’ culture and history do make sense. We’ll discover how we and the Romans are profoundly connected to and different from each other.

I’m excited because I don’t know exactly how it all will work!

To be fair, I have a general idea.  Lots of us will know our charts backwards and forwards, and many of us will know our vocabulary, too.  Many will be able to analyze those words at an expert level, and quite a few will make written translations that would receive high grades and gold stars in a standard and standardized class.  But all of that will feel sterile and lifeless … and for many, the thought of really reading and understanding something in Latin, without producing one of those “perfect” written translations, may seem impossible.

And then, as we get to know each other and the Tres Columnae Project characters, we’ll move from stale to fresh and discover that we really can hear, see, and understand this remarkable language.  We’ll find we can say it and write it, too, and we’ll find that the rest of our learning community can hear, see, and understand the things we write and say.  Those charts will take on new life as we use them to edit our work, to make it clearer and more understandable and “more Roman” … more worthy of being shared with the extended joyful learning community of Tres Columnae Project participants.  We’ll explore connections and differences, and we’ll build a joyful learning community as we build meaningful things together … even though, when we start our journey together in September, many of us may not really believe it’s possible.

I’ve seen that happen, been part of the process, many times over the years.  But with this new opportunity, I’ll be moving from stale to fresh too!

I wonder what other insights and discoveries, what other moves from stale to fresh, are waiting in the days to come!

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Image Source: Prayltno on Flickr – CC BY 2.0 license

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Published in: on July 22, 2014 at 3:43 pm  Comments (1)  

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  1. […] you see how these threads connect with the GHF online classes I described on Monday and Tuesday?  In each case, my work is to start creating a welcoming space for co-working and co-learning, to […]


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