I follow Clay Burell’s blog and found myself really interested in what he has been saying about teaching Lolita. And then I saw that he had responded to this meme, originating from Paul C at quoteflections, and the whole thing sounded pretty cool to me. I’m especially intrigued by Clay’s situation because he is (currently) teaching within the context of an AP English course. I have never taught AP, and never will — let that be said now. I have, however, taught English A1 at the IB Diploma level and although I am not teaching it currently*, I know how frustrating it can be to put together a course syllabus that meets all the requirements of an outside body. I do think that DP English A1 is broader and more open than AP is, but I digress. Back to the meat of the meme…
- Select and briefly review one teen novel, classic or modern, which is a sure antidote to the daze of high school.
- Title your post Meme: High School Daze to Praise.
- Include an image with your post.
- Tag four blogger colleagues
Sex, Religion, and Other Juicy Bits
The novel I have chosen is not a classic, and is not really modern either, as it has been around for quite a while. Robert Cormier’s The Chocolate War was published in 1974 and has all the issues you’re “not supposed to talk about” in the classroom: covert bullying, the pitfalls of organized religion and its leaders, secret societies, sex, masturbation, and violence. A quick Google Search will tell you how many schools and school districts have banned this book due to its “sensitive content.”
If you haven’t read it, a nutshell summary is this: Jerry, who is new to Trinity High School, slowly uncovers the secret society at the school called The Vigils — headed by a guy named Archie and supported and overseen by the headmaster-in-waiting, the evil Brother Leon. Through a series of “assignments,” The Vigils bully and make life miserable for everyone at Trinity, gaining more power as they do so. Brother Leon gains their support to sell chocolates as a school fundraiser. The clincher is when the Vigils give an assignment to Jerry to refuse to sell chocolates for ten days but then accept after ten days. Jerry continues to refuse to sell chocolates and mayhem ensues as Jerry grapples with his own answer to the question hanging in his locker, “Do I Dare Disturb The Universe?” (which is from T.S. Eliot’s poem, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”).
The novel deals with several “OMG!” adolescent issues — conformity, raising your voice against the status quo, challenging authority, and many, many more. One chapter is entirely a description of a masturbation scene — a chapter which turned many heads when I taught this novel a few years ago in the UK. (If I remember correctly, parents had no qualms about anything being taught in my classroom until “that chapter” and suddenly the e-mails started pouring in.)
And that’s my contribution to the high-school daze antidote. This novel probably sits best at about grade 9 level, but could easily be given to some mature 8th graders or struggling 10th graders.
And now, the tag: Clint Hamada, Morten Oddvik over at Mortempo, Alanna Shaikh at Blood and Milk (am hoping for a developmental-world perspective!), and Kevin Gamble over at High Touch… and you know what? None of these people are English Lit teachers!
*Currently I am teaching only within an MYP context, because I love the quirkiness of Middle-Schoolers and I often feel they get left out of the bigger world of K-12 education.
Photo credit: nicolevity
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