02 July 2010

R-E-S-P-E-C-T: new theme for BritLit?

I voraciously cruised twitter this week, grabbing every tweet about ISTE that I found. I was jealous of everyone there, while simultaneously astounded at their intensity only two weeks after school had ended.  I need, really need, the summer weeks to recharge and de-tensify myself. It takes the entire 10 week period—I may be able to teach a course part time or do a ”camp” like last summer’s July PBWiki camp, but mostly I need to spend time sleeping till 8, going to the Y, taking care of my home, enjoying my family and randomly filling my head with books, knitting, hiking, vinho verde, my nieces, swimming and other quotidian ephemera, all of which somehow find their way into next year’s teaching. Random has turned out the operative word.

So, while I yearned for the excitement of hanging out with people who would not look suspiciously at me, English department geek, I also recognized my own style of firing up the muse. And only two weeks into my hiatus, ISTE tweets provided me with my first light bulb idea for the summer. SOMEONE (I was sure I favorited it, but now I cannot find it) noted that we teachers are still the best source of "character education" out there. I still hate the term, but I do acknowledge our power. Reminiscing about my own my path to inspiration and personal morality as a teen, when I fell in love with Anne Shirley and Sydney Carton I recognized that my entire value system, still working hand in hand with my more traditional religious practice today, was cemented sophomore year in college the first time I heard the line “Beauty is truth, truth beauty. That is all ye know and all ye need to know” read aloud. Still gives me chills.

That is still my number one commandment today. I need at little beauty in my life each day—how you choose what is beautiful, or how you define “truth,” well that is another subject for another post. BUT revisiting the concept of teacher as character educator, secondary English teachers are in a particularly useful position. For the past three years, my Brit Lit juniors have walked into a classroom the first day greeted by posters, quotes, and music extolling the myriad ways that the HERO is at the center of all Western culture. Of course we start with Beowulf and almost everything we read subsequently gets the once over from that first look at what makes someone heroic—either his deeds, the community that supports him, or the values he embodies. It works, and provides scaffolding for their eventual understanding of where we all come from—all of us share a piece of British culture, even in this country of immigrants.  But what if I turned the hero archetype on its head and talked instead about what heroes inspire, rather than what they are made of? To introduce respect as a theme for the year and then analyze the topics, characters, values, community by what garnered respect, which inspired it, and what happened to a community-–or a story, or the dialogue, or even the devices used by a writer-- when respect is absent, could bring up some very interesting discussions.

Thanks, ISTE. Back to knitting and working through respect as an anchor for my juniors 2010-2011. I am going to ISTE Philly 2011 even if it uses up my book budget-I'll just record podcasts of all our texts!


Knighton said...

This sounds like an interesting concept. I'll keep my eye out for what you do with it.

Healigan said...

Well, it does not look like I will be changing my focus anytime soon for BritLit. For reasons I am not privy to, my school has decided not to replace the teacher's old MacBooks with MacBooks. Instead, some 20-30 teachers will receive Toshibas this August. So, I do not want to start anything new when I may be dealing with the complexity of two networks in my school--two of the 13 people in my department are about to deal with it firsthand. I have another two years on my MacBook before any change comes. I am attempting to avoid the inevitable emotional reaction that seems to hit me when confronted with threats to my independence technologically. But it seems clear that I need the status quo this year. So, we will be talking the Western hero again--no complaints there.