Sunday, August 09, 2009


On Thursday, I agreed to teach senior English - a course that's new to me. I know I can do it. I'll have support, and my admin understands that I'm going in cold. But when classes started on Friday I still felt like this -->

Our first unit will be on Beowulf and so I'm still trying to figure out just what it is that I think students need to learn from this unit.

I think a BIG part of it is going to be reading comprehension. Our lit book uses the Burton Raffel (?) version, which tries to keep the narrative in epic format. So you've got line breaks and funky syntax and artistic grammar and incredibly long sentences and it is FRICKIN HARD to read.

Beyond that, I want to consider our ideas about heroes and villains. How similar are we to the people who told this story? How have our values changed over the ages? Grendel is just bad because of who he is. It's... shoot, what's the Aristotelian idea... ontological! wooo, go me, I remembered :) Evil is an intrinsic part of his being - I don't think we believe that anymore, for the most part. Ditto the bit about it being because of his ancestry.

Beowulf, OTOH... how is he like a modern hero? How is he different? Oo, I should totally see if I can find some WWE promo speeches on YouTube. Maybe that could be their end-of-unit assessment: comparing a modern fictional hero to Beowulf in some way. I'd like to try to avoid an essay. Maybe I could sort of fuse it with Dana's resume assessment and have them create a resume for the modern hero to take over after Beowulf's death, and show the comparison in the annotations. Or something.

One of the things that intrigues me is that - AFAIK, I could use some help here - this was, to its original audiences, a foreign story. Don't get me wrong, I think Pan's Labyrinth and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon are masterful films. But they're not the blockbusters that, say, Independence Day was. In fact, that isn't a great analogy, because it'd be more like... CTHD being created in English, which IMO would have made it LESS successful.

Also - and this continues to a lesser degree in Shakespeare - you had to be royal to matter. Otherwise all you're good for is comic relief or redshirting. If that. I'd LOVE to look at how & why that ideal changed; many of our heroic stories today are about people who succeed because of hard work and talent, often in spite of fortuitous birth.

And I'm curious about the church's role in preserving this story. WAS this a successful epic? Was it one people WANTED to hear? Or was it one that people sat through because they had to, resenting the church's editing? Did it survive because it was popular or because it was propaganda?

More ponderings behind the link. I need to have this done for tomorrow. AUGH!

Image thanks to


Clix said...
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