Monday, June 29, 2009

Onto Oryx and Crake

I finished Native Son. Love the first 80% of the novel - gripping, intense, thought-provoking. It died a bit at the end during the trial. But I'm almost certainly going ahead with the Native Son / The White Tiger curriclum.

Now it's onto Oryx & Crake by Margaret Atwood. It might fit into the whole angry resistance to oppression / haves vs. have-nots theme that I'm drafting for next year with the above texts. I've wanted to read this book for a few years, so I'm happy even if it doesn't work for the course. But if it does, that would be cool - a female 'world' author and a high-interest (hopefully) science fiction text.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Carver, not Chandler

Part III of the IB English Higher Level course - which we complete during the second semester of Senior year - is a Genre study. I must choose four texts, all linked by genre and theme, from a list; however, one of the texts may be a 'World Literature' text not on a list, that also links with genre and theme with the other three texts.

I was excited that the author of The Big Sleep as on the list. Raymond Carver, or so I thought. I was all ready to teach the book, which I think the students would have really enjoyed - a private eye story written in the 1930s, dripping in noir and about the seedy underbelly of Los Angeles. I loved the book when I read it a few weeks ago and thought the kids would, too. I was even thinking about what theme I could use to link it together with other texts, and was thinking about the corrupting force of money, which I could also link with Morrison's Song of Solomon.

But The Big Sleep is by Raymond Chandler, not Raymond Carver. I had them confused. I just found out last night.

However, I'm still interested in this idea of the gap between the poor and the rich, and exploring that idea through literature. I'm reading The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga right now, and it's this angry, railing text by a lower-class Indian kid written in the form of seven letters to the Prime Minister of China. It's fresh, funny, and a page turner, and I think the students would be into it. That would by my 'World Lit' text, as it's not on the list but comes from another country.

That book has been described as another Native Son, so I'm going to read that one next. A former student has told me it's a life changer, and the 10th grade teacher was very successful in teaching it this year, so I'm thinking about that one, too. From the descriptions, it seems that's a book about the gap between the haves and the have-nots, too, filtered through American racism. And, like The White Tiger, the protagonist is a charismatic murdered driven to the deeds by society - at least a bit. Or so it seems. (I haven't read it yet.)

So, if I'm doing this theme (We could call it "The Repercussions of the Gap Between the Rich and the Poor"), I have to find two more texts. Preferably by women, although I could put more women in the other section of the course if it's impossible. I'm pretty disappointed by the IB list, which hasn't been updated in over ten years and is pretty sparse on women.

However, here is the list from which I can choose. Anything jumping out at you as being about the Rich/Poor gap? I'm thinking about Atwood's Oryx and Crake (which I haven't read, but the description seems to fit... I'll read it next). A lot of the authors I'm unfamiliar with, and many have are pretty much unavailable (Bessie Head, for example, all her books are out of print... I find this is the case with many.)

I try to give the kids a wide experience, so I'm trying to do less Americans. However, I wouldn't mind doing something they'd love, or doing something that is from a culture that they're not that familiar with (for example, I'd love it if one of Louise Erdrich's novels fits, though I don't think they do...).

I'm teaching Morrison's Song of Solomon, and could squeeze it into this theme, but prefer to put that in the other part of the course. The other part of the course is one-from-each-genre: a Shakespeare, a novel, a non-fiction text, and a poetry collection. I have lots of ideas there, but the list is more limited than the one I present below.

Anyhow, I'd love any recommendations of any texts from any of these authors that you might think fit this rich/poor theme. Both The White Tiger and Native Son are also very angry in tone, so that's another possible connection I could make between texts.

Africa: Ama Ata Aidoo, Cyprian Ekwensi, Bessie Head, Chenjerai Hove, Kojo Laing, Dominic Mulaisho, Charles Mungoshi, Isidore Okpewho, Ben Okri, Chinua Achebe, Ayi Kwei Armah, Andrew Brink, Buchi Emecheta, Nadine Gordimer, Ngugi wa Thiong'o.

Asia: Amitav Ghosh, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, Arundhati Roy, Vikram Seth, Mulk Raj Anand, Anita Desai, R.K. Narayan, Salman Rushdie.

Caribbean: George Lamming, Richard Lovelace, V.S. Naipaul, Ama Brodber, David Dabydeen, Caryl Phillips, Jean Rhys.

Europe: Auste, Bronte (both), Conrad, Defoe, Dickens, Eliot, Fielding, Forster, Hardy, Joyce, Lawrence, William Trevor, Woolf, Kingsley Amis, Iain Banks, Julian Barnes, A.S. Byatt, Angela Carter, Roddy Doyle, Margaret Drabble, Graham Green, Ishiguro Kazuo, Kipling, Lessing, Murdoch, Orwell, V.S. Pritchett, Evelyn Waugh.

North America: Atwood, Auster, Bellow, Davies, Faulkner, Findley, Fitzgerald, Hawthorne, Hemingway, James, Margaret Laurence, Anne Michaels, Morrison, Munro, Poe, Steinbeck, Twain, Wharton, Wright, Carver, Cisneros, Chopin, Erdrich, Hurston, Kinkaid, Alistair Macleod, Melville, Rohinton Mistry, Flanner O'Connor, Carol Sheilds, Silko, Twain, Alice Walker, James Welch, Eudora Welty.

Oceania: Janet Frame, David Malouf, Christina Stead, Patrick White, Tim Winton, Peter Carey, Janette Hospial, Henry Lawson, Katherine Mansfield, Olga Masters, Randolph Stow, Albert Wendt.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

East of Eden and a college tryout

I'm still not finished with East of Eden, but I'm still enjoying it. I want to finish it, because there is other reading I have to do, but have been busier than I'd like to be lately, and it hit a snag. I'm determined to finish it before Sunday finished. I've got less than 200 pages. Still not sure if I'm going to add it to the curriculum.

Next up: The White Tiger by Aravind Adinga. It seems to fit my Money = Corruption theme I'm toying around with, and might be the fresh world voice I'm looking for, in the vein of Haruki Murakami.


Today, I drove one of my baseball players (who just graduated, so he's no longer a student) down to Virginia State University for a tryout on their baseball team. I rented a car (wasn't sure if my old car would make it, and didn't want to risk a breakdown with someone's future in the balance), and we left at the crack of dawn, drove the 3.5 hours, and made it almost an hour early. Beautiful campus, which we drove through briefly before getting loose.

The tryouts were quick and well-organized, and my student did well. It was eye-opening, too; I struggle with what to do with my better players, and now, after seeing him alongside other players, I see what his weaknesses are, and am reminded about his strengths. Great arm, a bit slow on the exchange in the field. On the mound, he doesn't use his lower body enough. Told him that for years. He'll correct himself for a pitch or two, and revert. Hitting, though, when he's on, he's on. Luckily, today was a good day. Out of 17 tryouts, he was in the best 5, I'm pretty sure. I think he'll get an offer.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Into East of Eden

Really, really into East of Eden. Is it a teachable novel? Absolutely. Not sure if I will have room for it in my World Literature curriculum, as I have already 100% decided on one novel (Song of Solomon) and 90% on another (The Big Sleep, and two American novels in a World Literature class are already probably enough. But, we shall see. I love the book.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Planning next year's curriculum

I'm going to try to get back into the habit of writing regularly, now that the school year has ended.

This summer is a big one for me. I'm teaching a new course next year - IB 4, the class with our highest-level seniors - and have the freedom to construct the curriculum myself. The list from which I have to choose is fairly strict, but I have complete flexibility within it.

A colleague is heading off to the Steinbeck Summer Institute this summer - the same sort of thing I did with Shakespeare and the Folger Library last summer. She and I will share those same Seniors, but she teaches them in a non-English class, so I'm considering choosing a Steinbeck novel and letting her do her thing with it in her class and me do my thing with it in my class. I've always been a Steinbeck fan (read Grapes of Wrath as a 9th grader, and, even though I'm sure I didn't understand much of it, I remember loving it; and I love Of Mice and Men), but have never read East of Eden, her favorite novel. I'm currently engrossed in it. It might be too long to teach, but maybe not; it's a page turner and since I'm also teaching Song of Solomon next year, I think kids might be intrigued by figuring out all the Biblical Allusions.

We'll see. I've got a lot of reading to do this summer, and I'm looking forward to it, and hopefully I'll be blogging about it.

Friday, June 5, 2009

A break of the monotony

The final exam for the Juniors is a 15-minute Oral Presentation on an aspect of a piece of literature. It's an IB assessment and students are scored based on knowledge of text, analysis of text and its literary devices, organization, and language. Beyond that, though, they can present any way they care to - an interview with the author, a monologue from a character, an analysis of a motif, etc.

It's a good assessment, but they take forever. Instead of being set in one time period for the final, we spread them all around the week in groups of 8. Listening to 5 straight hours of 17-year olds talking about literature is both my favorite thing and least favorite thing in the world. As an English teacher, I love doing it; however, you can probablyimagine that many of them are bad and, regardless of quality, it's just hard to listen to so many for so long.

Thus, it's been a long week. Students are supposed to hand me an outline that I can follow while I listen, though, and one kid did something to lighten the mood. Before he began, I asked him to pass me his outline. It was three sheets long, and I noticed there appeared to be a photograph in the middle, that I figured must have been given to me on accident. I went to pass it back, when I realized... it was Kevin James' face smiling back at me. I burst out laughing. He got me.

Five more today, and then I'm done. Then I can get to some real grading.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Missing InsideEd.

R.I.P. Inside Ed

I miss InsideEd, too. How will the education conversation in Baltimore City continue? Who will step up to the plate? And how?

What a wasted opportunity, so far, for The Sun.

Gatekeeper facts

I'm not much one for Gatekeeper literature. I mean, I guess I think everyone should read The Odyssey. Some Shakespeare. "Sonny's Blues." Frankenstein is kind of a must-read for me, as is A Lesson Before Dying. But I would have a hard time making a list without feeling pretty judgmental about it. There are just too many great books in the world, and too many variables about what a student will connect with. I think a big part of it is the teacher making the text work for the student, so I think teachers should have a lot of freedom with the texts they choose (though not the transferable skills).

However, despite my non-love for gatekeeper literature, there are two things that I have come up in my years of teaching that I think every educated person should know. These two things are facts from books I teach year after year, and I love the moment when the kids say, "Really? I always thought...". They are as follows:

1) Knowing that "Wherefore art thou Romeo?" does not mean "Where are you, Romeo?", but, rather, is asking, as I like to translate, why he gotta be named Romeo?

2) Knowing that Frankenstein is not the name of the monster, but, rather, the name of the doctor. The fact that the creature does not have a name is actually a pretty important part of the novel.

I'm being only half-serious here, but I do tell my students that knowing these two things is a sign that you're educated. And, again in just half-seriousness, if the kid leaves my classroom and didn't get these two things, it makes me sad.

#1 was on the final exam. Out of about 60 kids who took the final today, 6 kids missed that question. However, I was happy to note that of those 6 kids, 5 rarely come or never listen to me or do any work. So, that means that coming to school and listening to me actually does something. I don't know what happened to that 6th kid. She's just kind of flaky.