This week is semester exam week in my school district, which marks the halfway point of the year. As students work on their big tests, I’ve found a few nuggets of positivity or, failing that, laughter:
While one class worked on their exams, I finished grading the book reports they turned in last week. The most common feature was most students’ response to a directive to write a paragraph about their favorite and least favorite things about their books, and what they would change. Nearly everybody said that they liked the parts that were happy, and that they would change the parts that were sad. Everybody said they’d make it so that Simon and Piggy don’t die in Lord of the Flies. Those who read The Lovely Bones said that they’d save Susie. And students who picked The Grapes of Wrath…well, they’d keep Route 66 and pretty much turn the rest into a college road trip, if they had their druthers. Luckily none of them read the Bible for their book report, or humanity might have been denied the Atonement altogether!
In fact, one girl was quite emphatic in her assertion of editorial license: “I would most defiantly change the ending.” *ahem* Yes, I’m sure you would. I see several students every year who spell definitely that way.
Every year after I teach Lord of the Flies–the classic novel about a bunch of young boys who crash on a tropical island and have to survive on their own–I point out to classes that the novel was inspired by the brutality of World War II, in which the author saw the worst aspects of humanity run amok. In the novel, the boys form a mildly successful society for a while, with authority and chores, but it eventually degrades into savage anarchy and chaos–the author’s grim commentary on his lack of faith in human nature.
Among other things, since the book is based on unchecked masculinity, I ask students to then consider how they think the book might have been different if a plane full of girls had crashed there, instead of boys. Their answers always fall into two clearly demarcated camps. The vast majority of boys, every year, say that stranded girls would just “have tea parties and paint each other’s toenails and stuff.” Far more disturbing than this simple stereotyping, though, is what an even larger majority of girls almost always says: “No, they’d all kill each other by the end of the first day.”
A pessimistic confession of their own burgeoning awareness of the social flaws inculcated into their gender? Hardly. That wouldn’t explain why most of the girls who say this tend to say it while laughing and smiling, almost proud of their prediction of massive failure. They practically high five each other while saying it.
How exactly have we apparently taught our young women to expect so little of themselves, in stark imitation of their masculine counterparts, to the point of competing with the boys for who can be the least successful? I wonder if this is the dark side of social progress, a worrisome elephant in the room: As we have tried to encourage girls to be more assertive and involved in the public realm over the last few generations, have we inadvertently also magnified within them or brought to the front of their personalities those negative characteristics that we traditionally associate with young men–the violence, thoughtlessness, and nihilism that we’re warned about in Lord of the Flies?
Last night before an English 101 class, I grabbed a complimentary copy of USA Today off of a newsstand. I thought I’d have a few minutes to kill near the end of class while the students did some peer editing, and I wanted to do a crossword puzzle. The newsstand was out of the New York Times.
But when the time came and I was looking for the puzzle, I never got to it. I found an article instead about a new Web site that had just launched. I went to check it out and was both amused and impressed.
Our hostess is a quirky, perky, goofy, nerdy young lit major named Jenny, who takes viewers on a whirlwind tour of classic literature in a series of bite-sized videos. The site, 60secondrecap.com, is a Cliff’s Notes for the text messaging generation. They just got up and running, so their library will start building over time. I looked at two of The Great Gatsby videos last night, and liked them enough to plan to use them in my high school classes for a fun review (if the overzealous school district server doesn’t block it first). Hopefully she’ll get The Scarlet Letter and Lord of the Flies up by the time I’ll need them in a few weeks.
And Jenny, since your site says you take requests, any chance you’d consider doing something by Cormac McCarthy?