Thursday, June 19, 2008

Text Rationales

This blog, as I have discovered, is really a "Part 2" to the essential questions post below. I am working with my school's English department to get on record the reasons we teach each of the works we teach. We do not have lots of questions about our choice of books, but they do crop up. What has been the bigger need for the rationales is to help teachers new to teaching a class know why they are teaching a certain text. And this brings it right back to the essential questions -- every text we teach needs to build to those overriding questions. As I wrote a sample rationale for the department to see, this connection to the essential questions was immediately evident. I felt like I was writing paragraph one of an essay on how I build my class around my essential questions. I know I can be a curriculum geek, but I really love thinking about this stuff!

In case you are curious, here is my rationale for teaching Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. I look forward to any and all feedback.

Seniors open their study of world literature in AP English Literature with this British classic, a dystopian view of the world’s future. As the cornerstone of the course’s first theme, “Utopias and Dystopias,” Brave New World offers key understandings the students build upon throughout the thematic unit as well as throughout the year. First, as a work originally written in English, the novel is an excellent opening to in-depth style analysis, a core skill of the AP curriculum. Studying Huxley’s diction and mood leads students directly into understanding the thematic objectives of the work, particularly how Huxley creates a society he ultimately does not agree with. By studying the presented society through its citizens' eyes and the underlying narrative of Huxley’s own view of this society, students learn they must read with critical eyes or miss what an author is actually saying.

The novel poses two potential problems. First, the setting of the novel, future London, requires students to understand another culture. This problem is not too challenging though, as the culture is similar to the students’ own, and this is why the novel is a great entrance to the year. In later works, students are introduced to cultures that seem totally foreign, so they learn key skills for interpreting a culture through this more relatable work. The second potential problem is the sexual mores of the society Huxley creates. This is a mature book, one that is read only by seniors. These seniors must work to understand that Huxley is not promoting the values of his society; instead, he is condemning them. Through the careful reading required by the text, students can understand the mature themes in the context Huxley intends.

By studying Brave New World, our students are beginning their literary world travels by establishing two fundamental skills: careful reading and deciphering new cultures.

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