Promises, promises: A Review of The Last Wish

51CZSawI1sL
Definately my favorite of the group. #fireheart

I tell my students that summer is meant for three things: naps in the sun, travel, and reading anything you want, even if that’s a trashy romance. (Although, I’ll admit that I do try to push drown beg encourage the occasional sci-fi or graphic novel.)  As for my own summer reading, I’ll admit there are some summers when I struggle to read three novels; there are summers where I read my way through so much that sleep only happens in the short time between books.  Last summer was one of the latter; a student gave me a list of YA fiction to read and I found myself spellbound by Leigh Bardugo‘s Six of Crows and the Shadow and Bone trilogy.  Sleep happened only while waiting for the next book in the Throne of Glass series by Sarah J Maas.  By June of this year, I was finishing the Caraval series by Stephanie Garber and I’m still awaiting the last book of Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor.

170px-Yuna_FFX-2
Gunslinger Yuna

Where were these reads when I was ninth grade me, trying to find one badass female in a male protagonist dominated fantasy genre?  At best, I had Mary Stewart’s The Crystal Cave series; if desperate, I could locate my tattered copy of The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley.  I turned to video games in part because at least in those electronic forms female fantasy characters had powers beyond mere seduction.  Final fantasy was my first exposure to the female mage character (yes Lulu) and later, my favorite female gunslingers (arguably now dethroned by Wyonna Earp) Yuna/Lighting.  My ideal lineup would feature gunslinger Yuna, mage Lulu, and martial expert Buffy.  (And I’d replace Rikku with Anya anyday).  Now while divorcing the genre of fantasy from the seductress trope is crazy talk, I’ll admit it is becoming more acceptable to see male seductresses or (gasp) to read female protagonists who can be both warrior and seductress.  We are getting better.

I have a point.  This summer, I promised my students to read and review a romance novel.  (Silly rabbits, they didn’t put any regulations or define exactly what that might be…)  It was in this spirit (and, arguably, a love of the PS4 game), that my “trashy romance” read of the summer was The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski.  Yes, that’s a Witcher novel.  So, my dear students, as promised, here is my review of a “trashy romance” via the fantasy fiction genre.  Hey, you never said what world or dimension my protagonist needed to live in…

51eHtkVLL5L._SX336_BO1,204,203,200_
I don’t know why there is a dragon on the front; don’t be misled. While he does mention a dragon, there is not a dragon in this book.

If you have no familiarity with the popular playstation game, know this: while the protagonist is male, the cast of characters is female centered, female focused, and filled with female badassery.  I’m hoping the Netflix show will be true to this as well.  If you have absolutely no familiarity with anything of this (some of us like living under a rock- no judgement), then you should start with the book that inspired it all, The Last WishThe protagonist is Geralt, a witcher (someone who hunts and kills monsters) tending to his wounds; in between his recovery, he remembers parts of his life via flashback.  So yes, this might be called a collection of short stories- each flashback is a stand alone episode that forces Geralt to confront the many different ways that monsters are so much more than fangs and fur.

ive-decided-to-write-my-own-romance-novel-50-shades-11480550I can hear you already, my dear pupils.  You said romance.

The Last Wish is a delicate balance between understanding Geralt and understanding his fetish for the sorcerer Yennifer.  You have to wait for it; Yennifer only fully appears in the last story and when read out of turn, you don’t quite understand why Geralt chooses her. (If you can call it a choosing.)  Make no mistake: she is a complex character with ambition, power, and little patience for the brooding hero.  You’ll like her, you’ll hate her, and you’ll want to be her. But you must first travel with Geralt and Sapkowski through some amazing retellings of popular fairy tales.  You’ll meet a version of Snow White that will inspire countless fan fiction; a re-telling of Beauty and the Beast that will break your heart and ring more true than the original source; and a twisted barely recognizable Cinderella.

Geralt-of-Rivia-The-Witcher-Netflix
See? Now doesn’t that look like the beginnings of an epic saga of romance and swords?

Sapkowski weaves his world of monsters, fairytales, and humans until it’s almost something completely different.  The only thing that tethers us to that world is the heartbreak and ugly truth: some monsters aren’t the imagined atrocities of our dreams.  Some monsters are the truths we deny or the truths we create. And, like Geralt, you’re left with your own code to decipher it all.   If like me, you find yourself fascinated and already writing mini-essays about effeminate, sword welding males and their complicated relationships with ambitious women, you might want to try the next one: Sword of Destiny.  (And if you know a place one could publish said pieces, let me know.)  If you are looking for the next Patrick Rothfuss, then don’t bother.  If you are looking for a world to get lost in, buy it or borrow my copy.

And there you have it.  I have fullfilled my promise.  If you are curious, Marlon James’ Black Leopard Red Wolf is the current read and yes, I’ve already ordered Sword of Destiny.  And because I still have three weeks left, I’ll be starting the Wheel of Time series after reading about it at Everyday Should Be Tuesday.

Now.  What are you reading besides your assigned summer novel?

 

Post It. Post It Good.

Sometimes I forget that my students cannot (yet) read my mind during instruction.  Not to say I haven’t often imagined a future where the classroom happened in a virtual reality space, much like Neo of The Matrix.  Imagine it: just as Neo spars with Orpheus to learn judo, so could students visual project their paper outlines as teachers move their claims into sound 3-D structures.  Building the better paper, literally.  We’re not far away, especially when you consider that a virtual reality pen app already exists.  Until then, I am perpetually on the prowl for different ways students can visualize the writing process and ways they can embrace the inevitable messiness of it all.

The latter can be particularly difficult for many of my students.  They see their outlines and thesis as a fixed thing: once complete, it remains unchanged and untouched.  Last year, I mandated a “no delete” code in OneNote.  Every outline could be covered in the strike-through function but nothing ever gets deleted.  While it did help them feel less married to a structure and liberated some ideas in favor of better ones, their thesis remained a point of contention.  How would I get them to see a thesis as a changing, breathable thing if it was “the driving claim of my [their] paper?”  How could I get them past “but if I don’t know my thesis, how will I start” and less surprised when I confess that I often write my own introductory paragraphs last?

Full disclosure: I don’t have the perfect solution.

I did, however, have a small revelation.  I am an odd person with some odd night-time rituals.  For example, my ablution supplies share nightstand space with a pack of post it notes and a pen.  I am also a list fanatic.  At the end of many a day, I still have them in my head- lists of books I want to read, lists of new apps someone shared, lists of family members I still need to call, bills yet to be paid, short essays topics I should write- and sleep is a lot easier if I just write them out of my head.  It was in moving these notes to their designated window (this method, while a bit ludicrous, is much more cost effective than a curtain) that it dawns on me.  Sometimes, the analog method is just as effective; sometimes, a post it note can be as trans-formative as a digital notebook.

img_20190109_221722
A smattering of ideas via post it

This last round of essays, I had each student write their first attempt at a thesis in a post it note and then claim a window pane in the classroom windows (I’m blessed with many windows). The second transcription was a brief glance at their working outline.  Each time a thesis was re-drafted, an outline modified, new post-it notes went on glass. Many students would come the next day with last night’s progress, ready to

img_20190109_221612
The pink post-its are teacher feedback!

update their progress.  After a week of workshops, feedback, conferences, and rough drafts, every student re-wrote their final thesis before turning in a rough draft.  I wasn’t surprised that many of them expressed contempt for their original pieces; I was shocked to find that many of them would often return to their window panes to modify not just their thesis but parts of their outline that no longer matched.  I had one student who choose to do a post-it per claim, allowing her to physically see how a different structure might feel to the reader.  Many times, a simple walk to the window yielded wonderful, impromptu conversations about paper structures, syntax solutions, and peer feedback.  My classroom became a hive of activity, the good kind. The simply act of moving the pieces as opposed to typing was crucial in changing the paradigm.

I’m looking forward to see how this works in other modules.  And I’m taking stock in Post Its.

Have Atwood, Will Discuss

31DHh31Hg5L._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgThree years ago, I replaced George Orwell’s 1984 with Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale in my Future Fiction course; three years later, and the novel carries more cultural currency today than its 1985 print.  Atwood’s narrator Offred is captured by Gilead, a Puritan totalitarian territory situated in what was once Harvard University.  As Offred learns to navigate her new surroundings, the reader must confront the awful truth: every woman in Gilead is property- they are forbidden to read, to have income, to work outside the home- and the toxic aftermath of war has left many women infertile (because in Gilead, men are never presumed infertile). Because her ovaries are healthy, Offred is forced to become a handmaid and assigned to a couple; Offred is meant to serve  Commander much like Sara’s handmaids in the Bible.  Offred will bear child for another woman; her uterus is  an offering, if you will.

When I introduce Offred to Madeira students, many of them see the novel as a cautionary tale, an imagining of what could happen.  This year,   the sexual allegations against Kavanaugh were made public midway through the novel and class that day felt more like a realistic view of status quo.  As a teacher, the Kavanaugh confirmation is exactly that- a realization that so much more still needs to be done.  It isn’t about politics and it isn’t about a president.  It’s recognizing that in many ways, society is still trying to protect women by disarming them.  On one hand, our society has recognized that gender constructivism in children’s toys constricts their expression of identity and yet on the other, we have a political system that turned what should have been a informed, patient investigation into affirmation that calendars are enough to make liars of women. Calendars.

So much of teaching The Handmaid’s Tale has become an acknowledgement of male privilege and the realization that more still needs to be done.  Regardless of political party affiliation, many women today feel similar tensions articulated in the feminists movements of the 1980s; many young women feel the tightening grip of a still male-dominated world.  It was in this vein that I accepted an invitation from the Gonzaga School to host a symposium of female readers from Madeira in dialogue with the male readers of Gonzaga.  Our discussions were lively, our students were impressive, and I felt progress not so far away as I meandered around the room: “The problem isn’t that Offred is female; the problem is how society codes femininity” explains a Madeira student, “to be feminine is to be weak, to need protection.  Any other behavior is met with double standards and negativity.”  I see the Gonzaga students nod in agreement, “We [men] need to say this too.  We need to say these things because we are the ones who can.”

These young men are right; for now. I leave knowing at least there is a younger generation of men willing to call themselves feminists.  And for now, that’s a step in the right direction. After all, as Atwood reminds us, “Anything can happen anywhere, given the right circumstances.”

 

 

 

“We’ll take VTR for $1000 please. “

In July, my application was accepted by the Smithsonian Summer Institute at the American Art Museum (I promise a blog post/review about this to follow soon!).

During the two week long program, teachers learned effective ways to incorporate Visual Thinking Routines from Harvard’s Project Zero into the classroom.  VTR utilizes any non-text source material to engage students in critical thinking skills; this workshop focused particularly on using American Art in application.  The workshop fundamentally re-shaped how I teach analysis and re-invigorated the “warm up” in my classroom.

Capture2There are many arguments for using VTR in the classroom (including the innate interdisciplinary mode of thinking), but I was really invested in the analysis piece.  Many of my students struggle in understanding rhetorical analysis.  This is problematic for any student taking the AP Language exam which includes several types of non-textual components in at least one essay component. Using VTR propels students into evidence building, claim composition, and technique identification- all cornerstone skills necessary for a well written analysis.  This year, I’ve decided to incorporate art and VTR into my junior and senior classrooms.

Catpure 1.PNGMy first introduction of VTR has many different routines, but at the heart of all of them is the idea of claim and support (see above picture).  This is a great way to warm up in the classroom; for my particular course (Native American and Asian American Voices), I chose artwork that would allow students to understand the module as an examination of marginalized voices.  We started with George Caitlin’s “Going To and Returning From Washington.”  The piece explores the effects of European culture on the Native American and many students articulate that tension in different ways.  All of them are pressed to show exactly where in the art is this claim embedded:

Both students arrive at similar conclusion and both provide evidence to support their claim.  This routine is crucial when moving into the next step: comparing visual text to a literary counterpart.

For this particular module, I modeled how to do a comparison of visual and literary text using the artwork from warm-ups; previous exposure help students feel more comfortable in the writing process.  This time, students would view Caitlin’s piece (see above) with Tanaya Winder’s poem, “Missing More Than a Word.”

Capture6.PNG

When paired with the poetry scaffolding lesson I created (see here), this becomes a powerful method in thesis creation.   Many students were able to form a claim about both pieces and identify a technique the artist and poet utilize in their works:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Once evidence building becomes an important part of forming a claim, many feel much more comfortable developing a stronger thesis.  This was particularly evident in our second comparison (using Hieu Minh Nguyen’s “White Boy Time Machine” and Roger Shimormura’s “Diary: December 12, 1941”).

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

At the end of the course, students are asked to answer a comparative analysis prompt within 45 minutes (message me or comment for the prompt).  Between this year and last year’s response, there is a tangible difference: using the VTR has yielded well-supported, sophisticated analysis paragraphs while last year’s response seem to falter in organization structure.

More importantly than all of the quantifiable data is this: my students love the inclusion of art.  It’s the most requested warm-up!

And I’m just as excited to continue using VTR in the classroom this year; I’ll continue to post progress.  Thank you to the Smithsonian Learning Lab for beautiful high-definition free access to their collection!

 

National Write-A-Poetry-Paper Month!

IMG_20180406_125134

April is National Poetry Month and with a bit of scheduling luck, I find myself knee-deep in Harlem Renaissance poetry. Let me be upfront: I love poetry.  (I make no claims of ability to write poetry. )  I love that a line break can mean so much more than the return stroke on a keyboard; I love deciphering how one writer selected this adjective, that phrase, these punctuation marks.  I love teaching the Harlem Renaissance greats: Langston Hughes, Angela Weld Grimke, Claude McKay- their works answer tradition with a mixing and reinventing so unique to their experience of the 20th century.

I. Love. Poetry.

Many of my students, however, struggle to find the same comfortableness in poetry that they have in novel study.  This is not particularly a new truth for teachers; many students report poetry analysis as the most difficult or elusive task.  A quick google search will yield thousands of worksheets, methodologies, acronyms, and suggested poems for implementation.  For years, I’ve proscribed to the the TPCASTT method (Title, Paraphrase, Connotation, Attitudes, Shift, Title, Theme) and in the last three, I’m not entirely sold on its effectiveness.  Understanding connotation means understanding the intentional inferences of a word; attitudes relies on knowing the difference between tone and mood.  In this method, all of this happens before a realization of theme.  This year, I decided I would do a study of comparison.  I used TPCASTT in the early modules of the Modernism class and in these last modules, I am implementing my own poetry toolkit for classroom use.

Scaffold
Scaffold Technique for Poetry

My early Modernism modules demonstrated exactly what I feared: my students did not identify poetic terms or differentiate their use from novel study and their annotations focused too much on basic understanding of figurative language.  Many of my students felt so overwhelmed by the TPCASTT system that their thesis compositions included every device, rather than selecting the best use of that term according to their claim.  I knew that in developing my own annotation system, I wanted some kind a scaffolding, a way for my students to feel the move from simple annotation to complicated analysis.  I knew that the first scaffold would be an exploration of the poem and its meaning.  The second scaffold would narrow a literary analysis to just the essentials.  The last step would involve syntax focus and claim development.  The difference has meant a much more organized approach to annotating yet still relies on the student to understand and select poetic devices; the chart has greatly improved the evaluation of syntax.  As seen in the student artifact below, leveling the scaffold asks the student to evaluate the intent of the poem before a dive into syntax; the syntax progresses into a thesis or claim about the poem.

Student Scaffold
Student Artifact of Claude McKay’s America”

Implementation is just one part of re-inventing how I teach poetry (more soon on helping students categorize kinds of literary terms).  I am hoping the third tier in this technique will push them into a thesis development.  Since I am a firm believer in providing examples or demonstrating active practice, we reviewed Langston Hughes’ “Advertisement for Waldorf-Astoria” using this technique and then color coded parts of the chart used for introductory paragraph building.

Capture3.PNG
Using the tier system to move into introductory paragraphs

I’m anxious to see how this system helps move them into analysis and paper construction.  Mostly, I’m excited to explore poetry during National Poetry Month!

Stay tuned for Part II: The Poetry Paper Outline.

How My AP Literature Teacher Crushed My Post It Note Dreams (And Taught Me How to Annotate)

What makes a good reader?

I’ve spent the last two years of teaching juniors trying to answer this very question and each year I arrive at some same things and some different.  This year I taught a class of freshman for the first time.  While I learned many things while teaching freshmen, the course itself demanded that both student and teacher have a clear understanding of what exactly is a good reader.  In fact, one could argue that freshman year objectives are centered around habits of a good reader.  So how do teachers answer that question?

If taking 9th grade “Coming of Age” Module, it means reflective interaction with the text.  Don’t be fooled; this is just a fancy way of saying good annotations.  I was somewhat suprised that most freshmen do not know how to annotate.  Only somewhat surprised because I did not know how to annotate well until college.  But what exactly are good annotations?  And do annotations make strong readers? The short answer is yes and no.

Stick noteGrowing up, I was never allowed to mark in my books.  Books were assigned and the classroom copy recieved was kept in near pristine condition despite years of use.  My teachers threatened us with hefty fines if a book dare have a stray pencil mark.  This was problematic; I am a visual learner who needs a tactile experience to remember things.  I need to write in books.  I need to ask my questions in the moments I read them.  (And believe me, sticky notes and the book are not the same thing. ) My senior year in high school, my mother decided she was through buying massive amounts of sticky notes.  She bought my books for the AP Literature and AP Language classes.  The struggle then was not “could I write in a book and get away with it” but “what do I write in the book now that I own it?”  My current color coded system seemed out of place.  The pink sticky notes that indicated a vocabulary word or the blue sticky notes that indicated a good quote lacked the immediate silent scream they once had when they hung over the page edge. “This page, right here, this page” became very irrelevant when I could write in the book.  But what would I write?

I started the AP course and the first thing the teacher told me was that I did not know how to annotate, that it didn’t matter if I used sticky notes or if I wrote them in myself: it was not annotating.  (I’ll spare you the grief-striken two days I spent moping over sticky notes.)  I’ll never forget that moment, the teacher looking at my highlighted, color coded inked notes while we read Hamlet, Act I, Scene 5.  Lady Macbeth musing over a letter from Macbeth, newly Thane of Cawdor:

Yet do I fear thy nature;
It is too full o’ th’ milk of human kindness
To catch the nearest way.”  (Shakespeare I.V)

“That’s not annotating.  Where are your questions for Lady Macbeth? Your own reactions? Why is that word important?  How do know that quote means more than a series of phrases?”

When I teach good annotations, I start with this story.  I think my students feel the same I did all those years ago; they know to define words that are new to them.  They know how to identify strong passages.  But like me, they don’t know why they are important or how to use annotations to breathe into a text, to let the story completely overtake your thoughts (or corrupt your thoughts in the case of Macbeth). They don’t know how to interact with both story and their own curiosity.  I knew enough to highlight Lady Macbeth’s famous lines, but I didn’t know to engage them.  I had to learn, to be pushed into what I’m calling annotation justification.  I had to ask myself why that word, that phrase, that moment was important to both me the reader and me the audience.  One digests information; the other reacts.  I had to learn how to change my annotations from “this is Lady Macbeth commenting on Macbeth’s inability to act on his ambitions” to “fascinating that Shakespeare makes a woman the villian, and that she is labeled such because she chooses to aggressively pursue power through her husband.”

Capture3
Annotating for intent, Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

 

It didn’t happen overnight.  It did happen though.  My teacher spent the first ten minutes of every class sharing her annotations, quite literally, under a document camera.  She justified each notation.  And when she couldn’t, she asked questions about why that seemed important; she predicted why it might become crucial to a character.  She did this every day of the six months I spent in her class senior year.  Did I still define words for clarity? Yes.  But I hunted down better words, words that pushed on the text (“the milk of

human kindess” instantly feminizes Macbeth).  And it changed the way I read.

Capture 2
Annotating The Alchemist by Paul Coelho

 

I provided the same courtesy to the freshman.  Under a document camera (even old technology can be the best for a particular purpose), I justified every annotation of mine for Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and for Paul Coelho’s The Alchemist.  And I let them ask questions, interrogate my selections or sometimes dialogue about the questions we shared as a class.  Will it make them better readers? Maybe. Do I worry they will create systems of organizations so complex it will overwhelm more than help? A bit.  But at the end of the day if the only lesson learned is that becoming a good reader is hard work, I’ll take it.  If at the end of the day, they find value in their own questioning and engage words that push through meaning, then I know I’ve created readers who will keep reading.

And I’m wondering what that might look like when I see them again as juniors.

Life is Not a Solo Act. [Nor is teaching.]

My 11th grade English teacher had one motto and one motto only for nearly every inquiry or sought after advice: life is not a solo act.  A high school me understood that as the importance of friends but, while a true sentiment, not quite how I understand that motto now.  In fact, my previous understanding rings a bit false; we all need friends but that doesn’t always guarantee you are not a solo act.  Friends are often our most forgiving audience.  No- I think Mrs. Isenhour’s motto was about something slightly different than friendship, something the adult me recognizes immediately as a cornerstone of many successful relationships: collaboration.

Teachers are the stuff of collaboration.  The vocation almost demands it, whether collaborating with a student to master an objective, working with another teacher to develop interesting curriculum, or simply attending professional development with a team.  Collaboration might be my favorite thing about teaching, especially any collaboration that allows for interdisciplinary design. And if by chance lunch happens at a table with a diverse crowd, collaboration can be organic as it was the day Ms. Mattox introduced Dr. Ward and I to Kara Walker, a silhouette artist that focuses on the American South as a medium. We spent lunch discussing visual arts and the profound effect visuals have in moving others into action or reflection. And later, when meeting in the Madeira art studio to view Walker’s work, I could easily see the Southern Gothic influence in her art and I couldn’t help but recall the Gothic module in the American Literature curriculum.

It’s very tempting to write an entire diatribe about the Gothic tendencies in the Puritans and the arguably unavoidable connection to a Gothic inheritance in antebellum Southern society, exactly as we did that day.  I’ll spare the reader this in service of staying on topic.

Gothic3What happened next is, quite frankly, my favorite collaboration of this year.  Using Walker’s medium, Ms. Mattox, Dr. Ward and I crafted a project for the Gothic module in which I am affectionately calling “A Light in the Night.” We prompted students to remember their Slavery to Civil Rights module and connect the grotesque displays of racism during that era to Walker’s intent in some of her pieces; we then ask them to recall their current study of the Gothic grotesque.  In many ways, these two courses are the shifting notion of a very literal darkness for the Puritans trying to settle a nation in the wild woods and the very metaphorical darkness found in even the most democratic hearts and minds.  Students then channeled Walker, Gothic motifs, and their own “darkness” to create silhouette candles.  The results were sublimely fantastic, scary even: Mallie’s created a candle that reflected the electric chair and the horrors associated with the death penalty.  Katie’s candle reflected the damsel in distress motif and the fantastical dangers surrounding femaleness.  Ally’s candle watched you, quite literally, behind two demonic eyes. For all students, it was clear how art could channel the feeling of a time period, past and current, to move some into action and some in reflection.

Gothic1As for our own reflection, it’s a project that speaks to the testament of collaboration.  Perhaps Ms. Mattox coined it best, “[Collaboration] provides teachers a new opportunity to view their subject matter in a different light and lens, and share ideas for engaging students on multiple levels of learning.”  Essentially we become students too, waiting for that moment when the interdisciplinary design becomes alive in the mind of others.  While my favorite part was designing the project, there was some shared sentiment for Dr. Ward’s favorite moment: “seeing each little success: the right cut, the design that came out “just so,” the happy accident—each one a lively little moment of insight.”  I think that’s an elegant way of saying that collaboration is very much a reminder of how shared experiences are often the most insightful; that while individuality is indeed a solo act, life is not.

My Rorschach Happy Moment (Not even kidding.)

Many teachers cite student growth as their favorite moments in teaching, moments when an abstract idea clicks or a student begins to connect the dots between disciplines.  These are all noble moments.  Mine is not so noble.

Two years ago, I created a sci-fi course as a senior English elective.  While I admit that a lot of my motivation stemmed from my own love of sci-fi and speculative fiction, I do also recognized the immediate importance of teaching this specific class at an all girls school.  Not only is literature (arguably of almost any culture) dominated by male protagonists, but male dominated worlds.  Men, both in an authorial context and a literal one, are allowed to create, design, and experiment.  Women protagonists must inspire.  Women authors must role-model or journal.  Women are often expected to be caretakers.   And, while sci-fi is not a exception to any of this by far, it encourages the reader (female or not) to engage someone’s creation (Frankenstein), someone’s design (The Matrix), or even someone’s experiment (The Giver).  Science fiction will even allow its writers and worlds to have female badasses, female problem solvers, and female leaders.  For the sci-fi teacher, the classroom conversations shift in ways that just aren’t possible with classic literature.  And in a STEM/STEAM world, science fiction engages any reader in ways that intersect literature with math, science, and engineering.

I’ve somehow started to launch into a diatribe about why science fiction is a necessary study in the modern day high school.  I’ll save this for another post.

IMG_20170406_163827My favorite moment. Two years ago I created a sci-fi course intended to push girls into interdisciplinary thinking and into conversations about ethics, justice, physics, and civilization building.  And while I’ve had many amazing moments, my favorite one (so far) happened today.  When I teach scifi, I begin by teaching both Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces and the lesser known archetypes via Jung. Both are easily rooted in psychology, but many times its hard for the students to grasp at the idea that opposites exist as a means of balance; balance is a basic principle of physics.  (We get very meta quickly here, so I’m sparing the non-literary reader as much as I can.)  This is often times when my dry-erase boards look the most aesthetically pleasing. I do this lesson as a two part introduction to Alan Moore’s Watchmen and for good reason: in creating an alternative history, Moore has to offset the reader’s discomfort of both recognizing and not recognizing that world with the familiar, sometimes relate-able journey of very defunct characters.  Both Rorschach and The Comedian have to feel at once familiar and not; we recognize their plight by unconscious familiarity with the hero’s journey.  Who your hero is becomes the novel’s great crisis; Moore’s deconstruction of the superhero is ultimately commentary on our own need for a superhero.

Hence, when paper time comes around for Watchmen, I’m often met with two kinds of responses: “how am I going to write all my feelings about this in an analysis” or “oh my god I have to write all my feelings about this in an analysis.”  This is so often true that I rarely expect anything different.

So, when a student met with me today, I was completely blown away.  “Can I write about how the archetype of the Joker becomes the truth-sayer and how problematic that is for the reader?  Or even for other characters? Am I remotely close?  And have you read Moore’s The Killing Joke?  My dad gave it to me when he heard we were reading Moore.  Ms. Heishman, are you ok? ”

Yes. Very.  I spent 45 minutes today waxing poetic about Jokers, the hero’s journey, Watchmen’s Comedian, physics, and how justice is a social construct.  With a student.  With another girl (I’m really just a grownup fan girl.)

Let’s all teach science fiction.  I mean that.