From 1998-2008 I taught at The School for Legal Studies on Bushwick Avenue in Brooklyn. It was one of four redesigned schools to replace the notorious Eastern District High School, which closed its doors in 1995. I was hired to teach English, but I often found myself teaching what are known as “dangling classes.” Dangling classes are courses left over that don’t fit into a subject area teacher’s program. So, during the first few years, as well as teaching English, I taught Health, Environmental Science, Street Law, American and Global History. A few years in, the programmer gave me an interesting new option: electives. I was to teach two elective courses and was told, “It will be great because you can do whatever!” As my whatevers, I decided on Shakespeare and Literature Appreciation. I was pretty sure the latter would not be approved, but I submitted the plan anyway and no one said ‘no.’ My justification for the class was that we spent so much time reading with purpose that we had stopped being awestruck by the power of language. Reading had become a means to some other end and not a thing in itself.
I related this story to the 8th grade this week because I wanted us to pause to really hear the language of The Great Gatsby. I thought it was important to just listen to the cadence and lyricism and sit with the images elicited for each of us for a moment. We spend a lot of time looking for “wheels within wheels” as another great writer, Arthur Miller, once termed ‘hidden meanings.’ But because communication through writing communicates more than just ideas, I still want us to be able to have an emotional and visceral reaction that’s less definable, but maybe more defining.
Of course, structured, analytical reading is still important, because this is what drives our academic discourse and our writing. It allows us to transfer our writing skill set to any discipline, anywhere.
Maybe we’ll try to “live” somewhere in the middle of deep appreciation and application.
Planning an essay often includes lists of possible ideas that are later refined . . .
A skilled writer can discuss opposing concepts in equal measure, using analysis and evidence . . .
A seemingly inconsequential moment in a text can provide a revelatory moment. . .
Using Google Drive to objectively assess our own work reinforces writing independence . . .
Sometimes the idea is there and as drafting continues, the “exactly right” words will emerge over the course of the essay . . .
A thesis may undergo revision once writing starts. Where you begin is not necessarily the beginning of the essay, as the writing moves from one stage to the next . . .
And paying close attention in class is always a good thing . . .
“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
–F. Scott Fitzgerald