Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Odyssey unit

I've gone back to twiddling with some of my units for the UbD wiki. Next up: my unit on The Odyssey. I'm doing the filter a little bit differently, though; for the "why are you teaching this?" I really want to go into more depth, because as far as I'm concerned, The Odyssey is not what I'm trying to teach. I want to use The Odyssey to teach an understanding of character definition and development, the way that setting affects the events of the plot, the push/pull of cause-and-effect tension between actions, results, reactions, and further results... and more.

Here, then, is my filter for JUST The Odyssey. Be warned - it's not entirely serious.

Why study The Odyssey? (I'm gonna be flat-out honest here.) Because the other English teachers will stare blankly at me in shock and horror if I drop it (well, if I drop it and they find out). Because the other 9th grade English classes teach it. Because I have a study guide for it. Because we have enough copies for everyone. Because Armand Asante is much more interesting to look at half-nekkid than ANY of the Romeos we've got on film. Oh yeah, and because it's got monsters, murder, booze, drugs, and lots of sex.

Why is a study of The Odyssey universal? Because we all go on journeys of one sort of another, blah blah blah. Because sometimes you have to work really frickin' hard for what you want, and twenty years is a DARN LONG TIME to work hard and see little to no progress. Because well-written antagonists, like real people, have reasons for what they do. Because ALL men wish they could grab as much tail as Odysseus does while the little missus runs the house. Because Athena totally kicks ass.

What couldn't we do if we didn't understand The Odyssey? Let's see. Understanding the Odyssey helps me... uh... understand other pieces of literature. So if I'm the sort of student who lazes about and doesn't retain anything from this unit, I suppose it wouldn't bother me that I wouldn't have connections and prior knowledge to give me a better understanding of other works of literature that I'm not likely to tackle anyway.


Sorry, Mr. Bloom. I'm really not a canon junkie. Don't get me wrong, I like the story. Great action. Truly epic characters. Beautiful poetry. But I do not think that understanding this piece of literature (as opposed to another) somehow makes me a better teacher, let alone a better person.

Sure, The Odyssey MIGHT be the one story that some of my students connect with. Maybe it'll make a real difference to them. But if I'd chosen something else instead of it, maybe THAT story would've connected with OTHER students.

There's no way to know for sure, is there?


Mrs. Chili said...

There IS no way to know for sure, but I do like your answer in your first paragraph - character definition, push/pull, that sort of thing. Besides, we're STILL making references to Sirens and Scylla and Charibdis is modern writing, and knowing the context of these references is nice.

Did you know that Forrest Gump follows the epic story guidelines? It begins in media res, it spans a long period of time, the main character travels far, far away from home, it features the main character in lots of different relationships with lots of different people, there is tragedy and comedy, and through it all, the struggle to just return home. Isn't that something?

crysnrob said...

Heh. Sounds like the Odyseey is to freshmen literature as recorder is to fifth grade music.

Adso said...

Yo, what about this idea: Teach _The Odyssey_ as part of a larger unit on the Hero's Journey. Begin by discussing what qualities make a hero, then give background on Joseph Campbell and the stages of the universal hero's journey. Then read a fairy tale as a good way of introducing the basic concept; tie it in to _Star Wars_ or other modern hero's journey classics. Then read The Odyssey after they've seen the film, but get a good, accessible translation. Ian Johnston has just done one that's very clear, very unpretentious, and very accessible.

Hope that helps.

Clix said...

adso - I usually weave the Hero's Journey in with The Odyssey, in a more general study of character archetypes. My point was more that this particular content isn't really necessary, IMO. Is it the best choice for the skills and information I feel ARE necessary? I'm not sure.

I'd really like to study (or teach?) narrative structures, but I'm a little hesitant, first of all because they're NOT in the state standards, and second because they're so firmly entrenched in our cultural psyche that they're kind of taken for granted, like the "Given:" that we started with in geometry proofs.

Dawn said...

Apologies. I thought I left a trackback before. I wrote a post on this but sort of took your comments more generally an went off on a rant. :)

[The post is Odyssey Unit from Epic Adventures Are Often Uncomfortable and it makes me squirm. This is why:...]

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