Sunday, October 25, 2009
Thursday, October 22, 2009
It means different things to younger people
Sam Walters* hates Hamlet. If he had his way, he would never have wasted time reading the play in high school. “I don’t like reading very much and I don’t like Shakespeare. The only line I like is ‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day,’” the 11th grader said during his school lunch break.
Speaking in computer room 227 on the second floor of Edward Reynolds Westside High School on 102nd Street and Amsterdam Avenue, Walters did not hesitate when asked what his literary leanings were. He detested assigned texts like Hamlet, any book that was “full of stuff on government laws” and things like Obama’s Back to Education speech, he said, but was forced to read and write about them.
“I don’t know why we have to read things we don’t like. If I had a choice, I would go for a book like Walter Dean Myers’s Beast, which I can relate to,” the tall and well-built teenager said, looking older than his 18 years despite the schoolbag on his back.
Beast was a love story but not the usual “happy ending” kind, he explained. It was a young-adult novel about a Harlem teenager who was forced to leave behind his girlfriend when his family moved and returned to find that she had begun to do drugs. The book charted the boy’s struggle to rescue his girlfriend but the story ended in tragedy, he said.
“I identify with the book because I am going through a break-up now. So if I have the choice to read such a book, my commitment, my drive to read and write about it will be greater,” he said. “I hope you get what I mean.”
But did he think he knew enough at 18 to pick all the right books and make all the right choices without help? “I guess you’re right. Then it should be half and half. The teacher should pick some texts and we should be allowed to pick some,” he said, before walking toward his English teacher, Ted Nellen, who was working on a Mac in the room.
Read the rest of the story...
Monday, October 19, 2009
Many years ago, in the mid 80's, I used to teach drama. During one of the semesters, I came upon a play called "Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night." It was for high schoolers. It was like Spoon River Anthology. Each character was on stage in bed. Suddenly one of the sleepers would wake and deliver a monologue dealing with the reason for waking up in a cold sweat or troubled. Then s/he would fall back to sleep and another sleeper would rise up. I loved it and the kids loved it. The class would write their own sketches and then we presented them to the school. We would have a week of performances so we could get to the whole school. They became very popular especially with our guidance department.
In that semester a young girl wrote a painful sketch of how she was awoken by her stepfather on many evenings. While she sat in bed she was blaming herself, she couldn't tell her mom, because she believed her mom would blame her, and she just didn't know who to turn to. Eventually she decided she had to speak to someone and decided she would speak to a teacher at school or to her guidance counselor. It was a brilliant piece, in fact in her first performance, two girls sitting in different parts of the auditorium left abruptly and I discovered later had gone to the Guidance offices. I learned of this because the head of the Guidance department came to ask me what was going on in the auditorium. When I explained to her our play, she was thankful. During our week of performances, no fewer than a dozen girls visited their counselors. Drama had served more than a vehicle for entertainment, it had provided a path for too many of our young ladies to find help about a troubling issue.
As it turned out this sketch was drawn from the girl's life. It was happening to her cousin. I discovered this when I spoke with the girl's mother.
I was thinking about this play recently as I am discovering that a play like this with this topic and others may be needed right now in our school. The students seem so much more tough than we were, but they are only playing at it as a protection against the difficulties they face. They think they are alone in their problems and we must let them know they aren't. I'm in a school with more social workers than that other school had Guidance counselors. Life is so much tougher for our young people and we need to find ways to help them discover their paths to recovery. This kind of play I did so many years ago, sadly may still have an audience and a need to be revised.