"Intellectual distinction is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for election to a Rhodes Scholarship. Selection committees are charged to seek excellence in qualities of mind and in qualities of person which, in combination, offer the promise of effective service to the world in the decades ahead. The Rhodes Scholarships, in short, are investments in individuals rather than in project proposals..."

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Update to Boy's Book Club Listing

I ran into a little trouble this week with some of the planned reading for my Boy's Medieval Book Club.  We were planning on using _The Mabinogion_ by Sioned Davies for our next book.  I took this recommendation from my very favorite curriculum guide, Latin-Centered-Curriculumby Andrew Campbell.  I made a major mistake in not reading that particular version of the book prior to recommending it because it was specifically called out in the curriculum guide.

The Mabinogion is a group of Welsh/Celtic myths surrounding King Arthur, passed down orally and written at a later date.  Lady Charlotte Guest translated them in the 1800's.  I had read her translation and found the vocabulary too challenging for our 5th-9th grade boys.  So, I took the recommendation from the book because Campbell specifically called out the Davies translation because of the wonderful introduction and awesome vocabulary guide.  He also said any "in-print" version of the Mabinogion tales were acceptable.  To his credit, he recommended a children's version,  Tales from the Mabinogion by Gwyn Thomas and Kevin Crossley-Holland.  However, that version is out of print and sadly looked a little more juvenile than my group would like.  They resisted the first book, Favorite Medieval Tales by Mary Pope Osborne because some felt it was rather "baby-ish".   It really was well done, but these are boys who want some meat to their reading.  So, I mistakenly picked The Mabinogion (Oxford World's Classics) which is clearly written for adults based on the content (sexual in nature) in many of the stories.

To his credit, Andrew Campbell exchanged several emails with me.  He indirectly chastised me (rightfully so) for not reading it before recommending it.  He did offer me some good advice about proceeding, however.  Here it is:
  • Unfortunately there really is no way to sanitize these stories to remove all references to pre-Christian morals. The Arthurian legends themselves center on adultery as the reason for the fall of Camelot. People have different levels of comfort with this aspect of older literature. Campbell said he once taught the Arthurian legends to a group of very devout Catholic children, grades 4-7. They simply noted how unfaithfulness led to tragedy for all of the characters.  They didn't dwell on the topic, but he said they didn't avoid it entirely either.
  • Now obviously if there are boys in the group who don't yet know the facts of life or recognize euphemisms for sex, the passages in the Davies version would no doubt confuse them.  Check in with the other parents (and yourself!) and ask whether they would be comfortable with the story as it is. If not, it is certainly fine to skip it.
  • When it comes to the Arthurian legends themselves, you can always focus on the better-known stories: the sword in the stone, the founding of the Round Table, Lancelot (as a knight, not in his relationship with the queen), Galahad and the Grail. 

 So, lesson learned.  We are skipping it for now.  I am quickly trying to decide how to proceed so we don't miss our next reading deadlines.  Stay tuned!

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