Wednesday, February 22, 2006

the human condition

I went to Douglass again Saturday, looking for my boxes of essays and poems and had no luck. I have a few essays I'd made copies of so I've been using those these last some days. It has been wonderful. I give them each a copy of the essay and I read it aloud and they highlight words, sentences, paragraphs, etc., that they find good and compelling, for whatever reason, aspects of the essay we respect, aspects of the essays that make us want to keep reading. Then we're talking about what makes the essays good and also about their content. And then, when they're all stirred up with ideas, we do freewriting first drafts on something that came into our minds during the discussion. They're loving it and so am I. Yesterday we read one essay about the boorishness of our society and one girl, Shelley from Chalmette, said, "they got a lot of boorish customers at Burger King," and I told the class about Ronnie, a Mandeville High student I had two years ago, who was pregnant and working at Burger King and how some woman customer got in her face and that Ronnie climbed over the counter and punched the woman in the face and knocked her down. Yes, there is much boorish behavior in the world.
Another one we read was an essay from Time Magazine called The PG-Rated War, about how government does not want the media to show photographs of war dead. We had a fantastic discussion about whether war casualties and executions should be made public. Arguments were wonderful on both sides. Ammy made it personal by asking how we'd feel if it was our own childrens' deaths photographed. Someone said that if the mother's child died in war we should respect his/her right to die for her country and that we should be proud for her. We talked about capital punishment and about the controversy sometime back over whether Timothy McVey's execution should be televised. And I told them about a revelation I'd had some years ago about hunting, about how my ex-husband was a hunter and I hated it until one day when I was at the grocery buying a nice rump roast, a piece of flesh wrapped neat with no big brown eyes, I realized I was a hypocrite.
Another one we read was by Leonard Pitts, about a video game called JFK Reloaded, a game in which the player is in the shoes of Lee Harvey Oswald and must assassinate the president. Again, the discussion went all over the place. Arguments for and against the game came up that had never occurred to me. Danny said it's telling that the game was made out of the country. Mandy said she thinks the impulse that causes humans to create such things like JFK Reloaded stems from that same something in us that causes us to look at a car wreck, that everyone has the instinct or curiousity to view death. Fran said she thinks we want to be scared.
In the end the question was, what does this say about the human condition? The human race? Us? Me? That's the point after all.
I'm two and a half weeks behind on my reading of the Times-Picayune. That's good because now my purpose in catching up is to gather more essays. Chris Rose has become a fabulous writer since the storm. For example.
On the Romeo and Juliet front, I saw today what I always end up seeing when I read Shakespeare with students, that they balk and they balk and they balk and then, by Act V, they're almost suddenly not balking any longer and they're getting it and LIKING it and I'm able to point out the more subtle aspects of the text. And they're asking a lot of great questions, some I don't know the answers to. It thrills me. I'm having them make note of certain passages, significant for different reasons, and tomorrow we're going to go back and study the passages. I think the only way to "teach" Shakespeare (hahaha, here I go again, realizing I'm not giving them anything except an open door) is to hold their hands while they muddle through until we realize they don't need my hand so much anymore. I would now like to read another play with them. It would blow their minds to realize how much they know already that they don't know they know. I'm thinking Hamlet. Or maybe a comedy? I imagine it would be fun to read a comedy and make note of where the comedy could have turned tragic and then where Romeo and Juliet could have turned comic (in the classical sense of tragedy and comedy).


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