If I were designing a real curriculum for others to teach, one I had to explain to a Board, I would probably falter. But I can be idiosyncratic, so I’ve been able to explore what works. Students, those who are interested in writing (in my experience), long to be serious. I am myself not very serious, probably. But last night we got Serious, and spent the night in the woods reading The Iliad by (AA battery-powered) lantern-light: twenty high school students, freshly arrived, chomping doughnuts and cracking open cans of orange drink in the dark, taking turns reading from the Fagles translation. They read in the strange accents from
Our choice of The Iliad puzzled some veteran teachers. Teenagers, if one can say they like anything at all, the idea goes, prefer the adventure and children’s-book monsters of The Odyssey, the cleverness of Odysseus and the fairly happy ending.
But I don’t think so. Achilles sulking in his tent—that’s something they understand. Astyanax getting freaked out by his father's war helmet. And Priam’s struggle to recover the corpse of Hector—there’s another fantasy, the grieving parent. One student put into words what she liked most about the poem, that despite the grotesque situation of having to die, it somehow matters to the world (not/not just to the soul) whether you were good and loving and noble in life. Also, Achilles has been played by Brad Pitt.
We’ll bury Hector today around 3:30. Next up the Great Greek Epic Mosquito, by Gayl Jones.
What do you wish you'd read in high school?