The great myths can teach us many things for in them we find history and geography and astronomy and word origins. But most of all, we find the struggles of human beings including all the passions and frailties that are to be found in humans today. We are connected to these ancient civilizations in Greece and Rome by some words in our language, to be sure, but we are even more directly connected to them by these myths, for it is in these tales that we see ourselves.
We struggle just as the ancients did to know where we fit on this planet and how we should conduct our lives, and we wonder on occasion just as any culture does, whether our lives and actions are all part of some grand plan. When earlier civilizations struggled (to understand the mysteries of life) they wrote stories to help them see their world and their place in the world more clearly. The Greeks had a word for it all right; to them the word for story was
The great myths are valuable in their own right, not just because they provide the mental “hooks” or schemata, but also because they enable us to gather and understand new material. These myths have survived through the centuries because they have had something important to say, and because people of widely disparate ages and cultures have found in these tales lessons and inspiration for their own lives. This enables us to appreciate people of all cultures.
Children will find that these stories require a more active use of their imagination than they are accustomed to providing, but although their creative power may have been dulled by monster cartoons and by basal readers that feature such exciting tales as “Dick and Jane Go Shopping,” these powers can be resuscitated by having to form a mental picture of someone extracting the teeth from a dragon, for example, or of the way the world would look to someone riding on the back of a flying horse.
This unit will study two cultures through myths and legends. Through the process of this unit students will achieve an understanding of the Mayan culture and, due to the vast range of cultures across the African continent, various cultures from several African regions. This understanding will be reached via classroom activities and writing assignments. This unit is designed for a seventh-eighth grade language arts curriculum with interdisciplinary learning throughout other subjects areas including social studies, math, science as well as art.
I chose to develop a unit focusing on African and Mayan cultures because of the cultural background of my students at Fair Haven Middle School. The student body is comprised of Afro-American and Hispanic nationalities. This study of two cultures would be most meaningful because of their heritage. Students will study and research in depth the culture, laws and religion of African and Mayan folk tales and myths. Their thinking skills will be challenged and increased through the content and lessons of this fifteen day unit. Even the most reluctant readers and writers will be motivated.
This unit upon successful completion will enable students to recognize, define, create and understand characteristics and elements of folk tales and myths. They will be able to inform, describe, entertain and define Mayan and African myths. This unit will show and give the students an awareness of different groups and cultures by reading their folk tales and myths. As a culmination of this unit, the students will write their own myths and folk tales. Toward the end of the three week period, the students will make a comparison and analysis of the things they have learned about myths. This will include their own observations and personal connections after they explore myths of ancient cultures from different parts of the world and further their appreciation of these cultures.
Students will be able to define and recognize the style and tone of the Mayan myths. This will increase their knowledge and add to their enthusiasm of multicultural literature. Every curriculum should motivate learning as well as foster enjoyment. Our heritage is created upon myths. This is the foundation for all cultures. Important to this unit is that the student understands the meaning of each folk tale or myth and is able to interpret it through the characters presented in the stories.
Life’s experiences are universal and folk tales and myths are fun. My students loved mythology stories. Wouldn’t we all love the powers of Zeus or the strength of Hercules? The writing part of the unit will explore their varied talents and creativity. They will collaborate together. What god would you be? What kind of powers do you want to have and why? The students’ imaginations will be stimulated in a positive manner.
I have found in my teaching experience that students will perform if there can be some humor. These myths and folk tales provide this element. The later part of this unit will be individual or paired presentations. There is a lot of wisdom in the humor that is part of the telling of myths and folk tales. This is especially true because many of the truths about nature in animals and humankind are unique and characteristically different. There are habits and ways that are inherent to the natural reality of creation. Because of this, learning is achieved through a development of the students’ sense of respect for others and acceptance of the difference of peoples around the world.
At this age level, respect is a quality that needs to be nurtured. Understanding and learning about how other people live in response to their environment will hopefully help them increase their respect for others. When they will finally create their own myths and folk tales they will gain a new sense of confidence. They will surely enjoy listening to the stories and making their own. With some confidence and fun, they will not be reluctant to be in front of the class.
Mayan and African tales show the cultures in the past and in the present in how people live and relate with each other. A goal of the unit is to foster respect for people of all cultures. Their stories “come to life.” My students enjoyed mythology so much that some of the books are worn because they have been read so often. They have been read so many times. Students often ask where other people in these cultures get their philosophy for life. They ask questions like did this really happen or who made the laws? How do we explain the mysteries in life? How did people in other cultures make sense of the realities of life and death? These questions are universal for all cultures.
A variety of exercises and materials will be used in this unit. Speakers from each culture will spend a class period with us. They will bring in some form of media and props for the students to see and touch.
We will then begin our journey into Mayan and African folk tales and myths and further our exploration of multiculturalism.