Last week my supervisor asked me whether or not my students know about The Story Project, or even about this blog yet. The answer continues to be, no, they do not know. It’s all still just a secret between me, and all of you.
I’m a planner. My calendar for my seniors is filled out, to the day, all the way up to June 2nd, the day of their prom. In thinking about why I haven’t told them yet, part of it is related to that calendar. When I conceived of this idea, the “big announcement” was slated for week 4. It feels like a turning point – they’ll be finishing up Wide Sargasso Sea, they’ll have listened to a couple of episodes of Serial, and they’ll be pretty well versed in the relationship between form and function in storytelling. So although I am pretty committed to my calendar, the calendar didn’t arise from nothing. It’s at that point that I feel like they’ll be ready to tackle the big questions that The Story Project asks them to grapple with.
Another thing that I’m thinking about a lot lately, particularly because of Harper Lee’s death and the subsequent discussions of her books, is that I want them to fully understand the power of narrative. The Harper Lee conversation has been rankling me since July when Watchman came out, and now that I have a platform, I can finally tell people about it! So here it is: to suggest that Atticus of Watchman is the same man as the Atticus of To Kill a Mockingbird is foolish. Watchman‘s Atticus is an early draft of a man who has different life experiences from Atticus in Mockingbird. So, while I vehemently disagree with the alarmists who are concerned about having named their children Atticus, I think it raises an important point: Watchman established a new narrative, and it may not have even been Harper Lee’s choice. The fact that a beloved American character, Atticus Finch, has been called into question in such a large, public way, only speaks more directly to the idea that stories are terribly powerful things.
Of course, the way things are going in class is a mixed bag. There’s a ton of enthusiasm for Serial – a student emailed me saying that the podcast and discussion boards are the most interesting thing he’s doing in school right now – but there’s considerably less enthusiasm surrounding Wide Sargasso Sea. While they’re interested in the issues presented by the text, the heady nature of the book makes it less accessible, and therefore, less exciting. Beyoncé went over great, but making that connection back to the text left them looking a little crestfallen.
My point is this: in constructing my narrative of this experience, I don’t want to pretend that everything is a huge success. Not everything, even the best planned lessons, goes well all the time, and those margins are widened when you’re talking about high school seniors in their second semester. For now, I’m going to relish the good moments – one of my students has stayed after class a couple of times to continue our conversations – she told me that Wide Sargasso Sea and our class discussions have really connected to her personally, and that it’s helped her to better understand her own experiences. Students made connections between the publicity surrounding Serial and the OJ Simpson trial, postulating that public exposure leads to more pressure, which can influence juries and the decisions they make. A couple of students have told me that they’ve binged Serial and are way ahead of the rest of the class – they just couldn’t stop listening. I’ll hold onto those moments, and weave them into the narrative as well.
So, no, the kids don’t know about The Story Project yet – but they are getting ready to find out.
Until next time,