Monday, June 9, 2008

Senior Novel

I taught Siddhartha this time around to my graduating seniors and because one of the keys to enlightenment is reflecting on past experiences, I am going to do that here... that and I'm going stir crazy without anything to do and it's only the first day of Summer Break!! This is my third time teaching the book, and I think I was able to do a far better job technically this year than the first two times I taught it. The first time we all read it, the second time I taught it as the part of a literature circle- students chose from Night, Angela's Ashes, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, and Siddhartha. I think something like three kids chose Siddhartha. Most chose Angela's Ashes because they laughed at my description of the book. One kid chose Malcolm X, and a bunch chose Night, although, as far as holocaust literature goes, I like All But My Life, though I have not attempted to teach it. Anyway, I think Siddhartha went well because I was able to explain some of the religious aspects more completely (Mara, Maya, etc.). Buddhist scriptures help, particularly "The Bodhisattva and the Hungry Tigress," and "The Bodhisattva as the Preacher of Patience," though some students equated the Bodhisattva's attitude toward death and rebirth with the Islamic fundamentalism they hear about in the news. The were a little dumbfounded at first by the Mandukya Upanishad, but reacted positively (mostly) to experimenting with meditation. They didn't like the ragas as much as I did, but I imagine it might have been their first experience with eastern music. One female student reacted very strongly to Siddhartha's treatment of Kamala in that she thought he used her. Male students were quick to point out that as a courtesan, teaching Siddhartha about physical love in exchange for gifts was her job, though it didn't sway this young lady's opinion of Siddhartha- she herself was a single parent, and I could totally see where she was coming from. If I teach the book again, I'm going to want to explore the concept of a courtesan with them a little more fully, so they don't think she was just a prostitute. Male students identified with Siddhartha's "party stage" when he becomes addicted to gambling and wine, and Vasudeva as the wise old man. I'm thinking maybe they have such a figure in their lives, maybe a simple farmer or man of the earth type they identify with the character. Students enjoyed researching famous couples and judging whether or not they thought they were successful, ie. found love with one another. They were attracted particularly to learning about Johnny Cash and June Carter (and I started to see some similarities between Johnny Cash's story and Siddhartha's), and Bonny and Clyde. The more bookish students researched instead Jung's theory of archetypes and the collective unconscious, and how they related to the book. They were successful (sometimes) in making personal connections with the book through journaling. For instance, one student compared Kamaswami to an unfriendly flea market vendor. We were able to have a few guided small group discussion about the book once they were finished with it, but hardly any discussion as they read. Usually it was me lecturing- something I hate, but at 9:00 am they tend to be catatonic.

So usually it's ups and downs with teaching a novel- it's work, so they're not going to love you for it, much less thank you
(until years later... maybe), and if it's classic literature, they're not going to make immediate connections...the exception may be The Catcher in the Rye, which I taught to juniors, and they made many connections, even in the first chapters.

My first year I taught Harry Potter to seniors, and a lot of them liked it. There's a good suplimental text for those who may want to teach it without having to wade through the sixth grade lesson plans called The Magical Worlds of Harry Potter. Because that book can exist purely as a fun read, I "taught" them some history of magic within particular culture, and quizzed them over chapters. Tried to keep the atmosphere positive, encouraged them to read more of the series. That was just as the second movie was finished. I was glad they thought the movies were so-so.

Year two I taught A Clockwork Orange and experienced some resistance to the Nadsat language, and one parent refused to allow their student to read it, so I swapped it with Brave New World. We had fun finding obscure pop culture references to A Clockwork Orange, and most picked up on the Nadsat by chapter three. They really struggled with understanding the big questions of the book, or at least some had a hard time caring about Alex at all. The psychological background stuff was intimidating to some, but I tried to simplify Aversion therapy and Behavorial conditioning with some analogical lecture.

I'd like to teach the book again some time, but next year I'm taking over advanced courses, and I want to start the year with Oedipus and Antigone. My plan is to see how many books they'll read without enacting total mutiny.

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