I teach three senior classes, and I have seen something more severe than the Senior Slump—it is the Graduating Face Plant!
The lure of pomp and circumstance is more alluring than the Siren Song Odysseus heard. I can’t tie them to the mast of the ship I am helming, but what I am trying to do is to get them to be active students instead of seat fillers as we all count the last days of the school year, and the remembrance of their high school career as something substantial in these last days and times.
In one of my classes, we are/have been doing a research project based on concepts and ideas that students love or hate; the only requirement is they are passionate about the topic they choose. I have named it the Social Gadfly project, and though it is a research project in nature, an inquiry (an educational term du jour), I want them to view it, approach it, as a discovery. I prefaced the assignment by asking them to find a subject they have a strong feeling about that would carry them through the work. Students took to it fervently. Many of them remarked they had never had an opportunity to “do” an assignment based purely on their own self-interest.
Students in that particular class have been Gadflying about a range of things, such as sex (they are teenagers), body image, religious judgment, perception/perspective, taste-makers, fashion trends, the afterlife, women in Greek Mythology, platonic relationships, access of healthy foods, the decline of baseball as the national pastime, existentialism, and social media. This list is not exhaustive, but those students are on their way.
My literature students are another story.
They ask me, “Are we done?” They seem to think after their AP Exam, that’s it. In other years, I would assign these students an assignment where they would have to step into the shoes of the writers they have been studying, critiquing, analyzing, and interpreting all year long—they would become the authors and creators. But this group was falling face first upon their desks. We were all plummeting. To save face, I wanted to give them excerpts of the novel we should have read but didn’t.
Every year I teach this novel, Hell or high water, but I didn’t, or couldn’t manage to do so this school year.
It was both Hell and high water this year in ways not fit to describe without earning myself a defamation suit, but I still wanted to expose them to Ralph Ellison’s great American novel and literary masterpiece.
Seniors, enthralled with the prospects and thoughts of walking the stage and celebrating their accomplishments, weren’t eager to welcome the reading of something new, especially after the AP LIT exam. Although foolish, I am not stupid enough to drop a 500-plus-page story in week 35 of a 39 week school year, but, I still wanted them to get a taste of the work they are going to miss fully digesting.
Today, we “opened” Invisible Man; the literature students read an excerpt of the prologue and bit hard; I mean, they chomped.
When we “open” a story, we look at all the richness the beginning pages gives us, laying out the blueprint and building the expectation of what to look forward both thematically and literary.
I hit them with the goodness. Here is a portion of what we worked with:
“I am an invisible man.
No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allan Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood-movie ectoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids — and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. Like the bodiless heads you see sometimes in circus sideshows, it is as though I have been surrounded by mirrors of hard, distorting glass. When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination — indeed, everything and anything except me.”
When I overheard (or eavesdropped) a student saying in a small group discussion, I am going to read this book, I knew the school year is not lost after all.