As a high school English teacher who has endured at least three rounds of educational standards reform in almost thirty years, I can’t help but think we should actually look to the great texts of the past as our educational standards. This summer, I’ve been purging, recycling, donating, and reorganizing my materials and books–at home and at school. The vast majority of disposables involve state standards and instructional strategies while the collectibles and keepsakes tend to include content-rich material as well as the rich content of thoughtful authors from times past. No doubt there are other authors and works beyond Shakespeare to include as part of those enduring standards, but three very good recent books about Shakespeare have me thinking about the Bard’s role in developing better education.
Although our quarter-block schedule disrupted much of my best work with junior and senior high school English courses, it did afford me the opportunity to refine the units and learning tasks as I taught them a second time each semester. I’ve found that Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart and several other resources connect well to concerns about culture, justice, and humanitarian aid in the modern world, inviting a host of questions that left my students more thoughtful about complex issues.
Here in the homestretch of the school year, I’m working with my students to continue learning while also effectively reviewing and integrating previous learning. Lately, I’ve been emphasizing some informal interleaving strategies as my senior students continue to read Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart in our final quarter of the year. These strategies can work well with a wide variety of texts and topics.
While sampling Simon Sinek’s recent book The Infinite Game, I began musing about the ways that Shakespeare intensifies the dramas of Henry V, Hamlet, and Othello by layering in life-after-death metaphysical and ethical issues that his characters face. For the sake of my reflection here, I characterize the finite game and its play with the secular dimension of life, and the infinite game of life and its play with the spiritual dimension of life. Thinking about these metaphysically and ethically has all sorts of implications for interpreting our lives and our literary readings.
Thankfully, medical science has come a long way since the 18th century. Here’s a brief reflection on why today is a good day to get inoculated. This afternoon, I’m going to get my first of two vaccine doses. I’m especially grateful for how far medical science has come since the 18th century.
Anne Bradstreet’s “Verses upon the Burning of our House” became way too relevant to my students and to me in the fall of 2020 as the East Troublesome Fire roared through our county. I found myself rethinking my recent, somewhat flippant comments about “2020 being a dumpster fire of a year” and how our local wildfire might become “some version of Lord of the Ring’s Mordor.” On a Wednesday night I looked out my front door and saw a scene that looked way too much like Mordor.
Throughout the year, outside forces of marketing, media, and politics tempt our susceptible human nature to focus way too much on appearances and rob ourselves of a much richer inner life. C.S. Lewis addressed this tendency throughout his works, but especially in The Chronicles of Narnia.
Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman stirs my thinking about education and long-term flourishing in fresh ways. The play has been a close companion from my first reading in college and through much of my teaching career. Although it’s a tragedy, it makes us keep thinking about the problems that can get in the way of pursuing the grace of everyday experiences and relationships. So, here are three takeaways from two rounds of reading the play with students this fall.
For me, Franz Kafka’s novella The Metamorphosis reads like an existential parable about how people can lose their humanity by mindlessly going through daily life and relationships. I don’t want that to happen to any of us in real life. It’s one of those stories that I use with the students and simultaneously use to warn myself away from just going with the flow of public school teaching.
As educators and thoughtful human beings, we really should be subject-centered and thereby more relationally-minded in our teaching, living, and pursuit of long-term flourishing. That sounds counterintuitive, but it’s true and helpful. Under the influence of poet Rainer Maria Rilke, Parker Palmer explains in The Courage to Teach that subject-centered teaching is the best way to approach teaching and learning. Rilke and Palmer are just a few of the many thoughtful writers who compel me to assert that good subject-centered knowledge rightly guides better relationships.