15 September 2006

Fun with Puritanism

This week in AP Lang, we dove right into the ever-fascinating (does sarcasm bleed through text without the accompanying tone of voice?) American literary periods. Not to be down on American lit-- honestly, the longer I teach it, the more I appreciate it-- but out of all the cultures in the world, America has the most boring literary periods. But sadly, junior year in NoVA means American lit, and for every brilliant dark Romantic and Modernist movement, American writers inevitably followed with a Rationalist or, heaven forbid, Realist movement to put it to sleep.

And don't get me started on the Transcendentalists. (Go to hell, Thoreau.)

Anyway, this year I decided to follow the literary periods chronologically, so my juniors spent this week with an intro to Puritanism and the Age of Reason, then moved on to Mary Rowlandson's "A Narrative of the Captivity" (wife and mother kidnapped by Indians, suffers cruelly, lives to tell the tale), Equiano's "The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Equiano" (African kidnapped and sold into slavery, travels the Middle Passage to America), and Jonathan Edward's "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" (sermon-- basically, God dangles us over the fires of hell and can drop us anytime he feels like it. Creepy!)


(Okay, fine, I'll give you Edwards. His hellfire-and-brimstone is entertaining, if nightmarish.)

So on Wednesday, my first period class is discussing the Rowlandson and Equiano narratives, and... zzzzzz... Oh! Sorry, fell asleep just thinking about it!

Anyway, my first question is always, "What did you think of the reading?"

Overall, the class agreed with my own (silent) assessment: Yawn. "Rowlandson just lists events and talks about God," says one student dismissively.

Oo, there's a lesson here. "How does that reflect the time period in which she's writing?" I ask.

The kids who actually absorbed the intro materials jump in immediately: Puritan writing is by and large in diary form, and writers were constantly finding the presence of God in everyday life.

"Okay, good," I say. "What about Equiano? What did you think of him?"

Cut, a curly-haired boy sitting in the back, raises his hand. "I thought it was cool," he says. "You know, he talked about all the fun adventures. Like being on the slave ship."

The other students giggle.

"The slave ship? That's was a fun adventure?" I reply.

"Fun... yeah, you know, interesting and... fun," Cut backpedals lamely.

Seriously, you can't script this stuff.

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