Thursday, January 06, 2011

Gatsby Update

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored!" Can you repeat the past? Of course you can, old sport!

So speaketh the Great Jay Gatsby, and quite a few religions make a tidy living supporting that outrageous proposition.

But not here at "The Gods Are Bored!" We operate volunteer services that help ancient deities become computer-literate and environmentally aware. Don't believe me? You should have seen the shock and disdain on Cernunnos's face when I first used silk/plastic mistletoe in a Ritual. Then I explained to Him that silk/plastic can be used over and over, it causes no harm to living mistletoe, and in fact it ought to be kept out of the landfill because a buzzard can't tell the difference between a plastic berry and a real one until the berry is consumed. Cernunnos got on board in a jiffy, and He even donated a wonderful thrift-store silk piece to my Yule altar!

That's what I call keeping up with the times.

I'm off-topic, though. Let's talk about Gatsby in the hood.

There's always somebody slinking into my classroom with a clipboard in hand, evaluating me according to the latest educational philosophy, which currently is something called Marzano. Today I got yet another visitor, without a clipboard, smack in the midst of one of my un-structured Great Gatsby lessons.

At most American high schools, teachers fling a copy of GG into their students' hands, assign them a certain number of chapters a week, lob on the symbolism and vocabulary, and generally create a massive hatred for a novel that I consider emblematic of the American experience.

With my class, we have read almost all of the story out loud, acting out parts in turn, and stopping frequently to comment upon these crazy rich people and their skewed values system. I have done zero vocabulary and nearly zero "language arts" lessons. We've just been reveling in the story.

My students love it. Even the ones who can hardly read at grade level love it. You know why? Because buried within all that lofty (and beautiful and difficult) prose is a fantastic story.

Today we were acting out Chapter 7 under the watchful eye of an administrative spy. I suggested we skip a few paragraphs of lofty prose, and you know what? My students would have none of it! "We want to read every word!" One of them said, and the rest seconded the motion.

(I was not reading it to them. They were round-robin reading it, randomly selected.)

Even the macho boys who hated the very idea that they might be forced to read something mushy are solid with this tale. And why not? Is it not about a clash between Alpha Males (among other themes)?

Long story short, the administrative type asked me after class if my students were enjoying the book. As if he had to ask! They would have stayed another 40 minutes, busily engaged with it.

Then the admin told me that the students at our sister school hated GG.

I write this because on Monday next, the Superintendent of my school district will be observing me as I teach The Great Gatsby. (We are almost finished the book.) My future employment is entirely in his hands, but I'm not changing my strategy one bit.

Great literature is only great if it says something about what we value. And readers who aren't terribly sophisticated can lose their grip on this book if they get bogged down in the prose. How terrible is that? Gatsby is a classic! The "American Dream" dissolves before your very eyes! This story makes you question all the answers ... so long as you don't have to dissect every other paragraph for vocab and crap that proves you aren't using Spark Notes.

For the record, I actually Googled Spark Notes so my students could see that they have a tool they can use to help them understand the story better. I told them that we would skip any word we didn't know, and if they needed to know it, I would just tell them what it is. Because my aim should be to increase their vocabulary skills, but my intention is to make them think.

They like it! Hey, Mikey!

When I get the pink slip, I will still feel that I have accomplished something ... great.


Lavanah said...

And what happens when, after the Superintendant observes your teaching and hears that unlike the sister school your students are enjoying the book, and so (yes, I know a RUN-ON SENTENCE!) you are asked to design a teaching method for said sister school?

Debra She Who Seeks said...

Surely the fact that your students are LOVING this novel will speak loud and clear about your ability to engage them!

JaAnBe said...

This is off the topic, but here's more bad press for vultures.

Lori F - MN said...

If they have the audacity to give you a pink slip, FRAME IT.

If your sister school want's you to design their teaching methods, demand payment for it. Lots of it.

You have an incredible gift for teaching kids to Love books. Ignoring what the stupid 'experts' want you to think - the light on the other side of the lake in GG is just a light, get over it! - is brilliant!

Brad Benson said...

Hi Anne Jeanette,

Just stopped in to see your site. Screw the administrators. Teach the kids something. I agree on that lousy governor of yours also.

Cousin Brad

The Wizardess said...

Yay! Go for it! Sounds like you are teaching from your strengths. I love Gatsby but I've never taught it.

Morningmoon said...

My sophomore year in high school my English teacher read to us The Hobbit.

I wonder, did we learn anything?

If all children learned to love to read, the learning would come naturally. (It's proven.) I think that is one thing you are accomplishing. If the administrators and the learning theorists don't see that... Isn't there a private or alternative school in your area that would appreciate your skill and creativity?