Thursday, April 19, 2012

Here & there


Ahhh, vacation. One of the delightful perks of this job. This week I've been able to see some friends, spend time in Boston, buy more books, and today I went for a nice hike in the Blue Hills. Yesterday I finally went to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum for the first time. What a beautiful place! The garden is breathtaking....oh, how I wish I had money. That is the type of garden that could inspire poetry (and probably has). I enjoyed a lot of the art, though at times I found it annoying that the museum has to keep everything exactly the way Gardner had it, because some pieces were difficult to get a good look at. Plus, not all of them were very well lit. Nevertheless, it was a worthwhile excursion. I also saw "Titanic" in 3D. That movie first came out when I was 9 years old, and my sister was 5. My mom wasn't always very good at paying attention to why movies carried the ratings they did, and thus took us to see some things that were a little inappropriate (like "Stepmom"), which I recall once commenting on to her. (I'm sure that those of you who know me are not the least bit surprised by this.) I thought the 3D added to the grandeur of the film, and it was great to be able to see this on the big screen again. I've seen it in bits and pieces on TV for so many years, but that kind of waters down the effect of it (please excuse the horrible and unintended pun). Even though I practically have it memorized, seeing it in the theater was like seeing it with fresh eyes.


This week I've also been reading Truman Capote's Music for Chameleons, which is a collection of short stories, some true, some fictional, some a combo of the two. With Capote, sometimes it can be hard to tell. But I absolutely love his style of writing. These stories are from late in his career when he was experimenting with a new style. The result is almost like a screenplay, consisting largely of dialogue, something for which he had a great talent. Anyone who has ever seen and loved "Breakfast at Tiffany's" should read the novella--the way he writes Holly Golightly's dialogue is so distinctive that you can actually hear Audrey Hepburn's voice. One story in Music for Chameleons, "Handcarved Coffins," is made up of dialogue along with descriptions relegated to parentheses. It's about 80 pages long, and had me at the edge of my seat, racing to unlock its secrets. Recently, when I offered to let my students borrow my books so they could have something to read if they finished the MCAS early, In Cold Blood caught the eyes of one of my CP1 boys. He returned it last week, and said that he loved it. He seemed to still be a little bit haunted by it. Once I finish this book, I'll have to see if he's interested in borrowing it. It's always fun to get kids to read something they ordinarily would not pick up, and then see them get hooked by it.

Yom HaShoah

Today is Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day. I've mentioned before in this blog how I teach Elie Wiesel's Night in my World Literature class, which is for seniors. Next year, our school is re-shuffling our curriculum, and World Lit is going to be for sophomores (I currently teach four classes of sophomores). This means that they'll be missing out on some great books. A few of us decided that we would teach Night to our sophomores this year, as it is often considered one of the most important books students will read in high school. It's amazing what an impact it can have on them, learning of the atrocities that human beings are capable of committing against one another, as well as how strong and enduring the human spirit can be. 

I assigned the memoir to my honors class to read over break. A couple of weeks ago, a few of those students were asking me what they would be reading after Macbeth, and I told them that this would be assigned, and they were pretty excited. Then, early last week, one of the boys came in, excitedly saying, "I read that book!!!" At first, I had NO idea what book he was referring to. He went on to tell me that he had already finished Night (even though I had not yet officially assigned it or even passed out the books), and he loved it. He buzzed on and on about how great the writing was, and said that he couldn't put the book down, and in fact was afraid to put it down because it was so sad that he wasn't sure if he'd be able to pick it back up again. He even said, "I almost cried." After class ended, he talked to me some more about it, his enthusiasm just spilling over. To put it in perspective, this kid is a member of the football and wrestling teams. He's smart and a good kid, but can be kind of a yahoo sometimes (to steal Ms. K's word). I've blogged about him before--he's the one who ate the spider. But like I said, he is a good kid, and when he's not being a goofball, he's pretty bright. To see him so enthusiastic and so affected by this book was fantastic. The next day, when I did my lecture on the Holocaust and WWII, whenever his classmates started getting a little noisy, he'd tell them, "Quiet, I want to hear this." WHOA. This is one of the students that I usually have to remind to quiet down! But he was riveted and wanted to soak up every bit of information. His classmates were also very interested and asked some good questions. I also showed some photographs from a book of my dad's, some of which are kind of graphic, showing starving or dead prisoners. Some students, including the aforementioned boy, had to avert their eyes from those pictures, unable to look at the horrors I warned them about.

The assignment I gave with Night was 2-3 pages on the following question: "From a 21st century point of view, what does this book mean to you?" It's very open-ended, and I'm extremely interested to see what sorts of responses I'll get. I didn't want to give a literary analysis with the book this time; I think the more personal responses will be more impactful. I'll be sure to write an update once I collect the assignment. I hope the students are all at least half as moved by this account of the Holocaust as that one boy was. Today is a reminder of just how important it is to keep the memory of that terrible crime against humanity alive, and to use our knowledge and understanding to create a better world for ourselves.

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