The life cycle of malaria William Shakespeare showed us malaria from his point of view:
“…Worse than the sun in March,
This praise doth nourish agues….”
–from Henry IV
Much like our need to understand the life cycle of organisms in order to understand infectious diseases, we need to understand the life cycle of literacy to make sure our children grow up to understand Mr. Shakespeare, and others.
The literacy life cycle begins at infancy. As infants hear words and parents read to them, the child develops connections to these words and begins to understand what they mean. If children are exposed to literature of only simple wording or simple themes–or none at all, their learning platform will be less substantial than peers that had parents who “snuck-in” unusual or more complex themes once in a while, as appropriate for the child’s age.
I wish for all children to be exposed to literature that encompasses history and vocabulary, the building blocks for understanding science to a greater degree than route memorization of words and processes. If we help our children to develop a place in their brains where they can store baseline information, then we can read more and more complex things to them. They, and parents as well, will become readers and not shy away from complex topics.
Although the overall United States literacy rate is 99%, there are pockets of America where the national average is not achieved. The US is tied for 21st place among other developed countries. Science literacy is less. Nearly 70% of adult Americans can not understand the science section of the New York Times. A further example: the issue of stem cells in the 2004 election was too complex for 92% of Americans to even consider in their choice for President or other governmental officials. I’m not stating a side here, just an observation that people need to understand complex scientific issues in order to make decisions for their communities and nation.
To complete the life cycle process, informed children get older and become informed teens, young adults and grown-ups. They pass on knowledge to future generations. They teach their children, students, neighbors, and community. The life cycle continues.
Back to the beginning goes the life cycle, and back to the beginning of this post, with the phrase “Worse than the sun in March”. In Shakespeare’s time, the sun was thought to raise up the bad air that led to ague. This thought continued on until 1898 when Sir Ronald Ross discovered that it wasn’t bad air–mal aria–but the Anopheles mosquito that carried and delivered it. “This praise doth nourish agues” may make one’s eyes cross unless they understand that ague was the Elizabethan term for the collection of symptoms attributed to what we now call malaria. With this understanding the above verse makes sense. If it makes sense, a person will less likely shun it, and I dare say enjoy it. I know that I will read, with faithful dictionary upon my knee.
Mabillard, Amanda. Worst Diseases in Shakespeare’s London. Shakespeare Online. 20 Aug. 2000. Accessed 13/4/2010
United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Institute for Statistics (UIS) April 2007 Assessment (UNESCO Institute for Statistics 2007a), taken from Wikipedia, accessed 12/6/2010.
Scientific Literacy Sources:
Michigan State University. “Scientific Literacy: How Do Americans Stack Up?.” ScienceDaily27 February 2007. 6 December 2010.
Raloff, Janet, Science literacy: U.S. college courses really count, March 13th, 2010; Vol.177 #6 (p. 13), accessed 12/6/2010.
For more writings on infectious disease portrayal in Literature and the Arts, visit The Febrile Muse.