Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Teaching The Odyssey

The Carnival of Education is up at Bellringers and I've been enjoying it but I stopped short at one post.

The post is Odyssey Unit from Epic Adventures Are Often Uncomfortable and it makes me squirm. This is why:

Next up: my unit on The Odyssey. I'm doing the filter a little bit differently, though; for the "why are you teaching this?" I really want to go into more depth, because as far as I'm concerned, The Odyssey is not what I'm trying to teach. I want to use The Odyssey to teach an understanding of character definition and development, the way that setting affects the events of the plot, the push/pull of cause-and-effect tension between actions, results, reactions, and further results... and more.


Let me admit that I don't know anything about what this teacher is actually going to do. I'm going by what I feel the above quote implies and my own experiences with literature in school. This teacher may do wonderful things with The Odyssey, I don't know, but the choice of the word use just sets off more general frustrations with how schools approach literature.

See, to me it implies that The Odyssey is going to get hauled up onto an altar, cut open with a huge knife and then have it's entrails pulled out to be examined by a classroom full of children. What The Odyssey is, in itself, isn't important. The value of it lies simply in what examples of plot and character it's belly can offer up while the work itself lies dying on the table.

I am guessing that the work of reading the epic will fall to the kids ("Because we have enough copies for everyone.") which always seems a tad wrong for a work that was crafted through oral tradition. An in-class reading would be so much more appropriate and a recording of it read by a professional even better. It was an audio book recording of The Illiad and The Odyssey (although adapted for children) that fired up my daughter's (then 8) interest in the epics and ancient Greek. A bunch of grade 9 students ploughing through it in a format that's a poor second to how it's meant to be approached seems destined to create disinterest.

If appreciation of a piece for it's merits alone isn't the goal then simply leave it untouched. Let the kids pick the book up in 10 years with no memories of mundane activities regarding setting or plot development that might make them shy away from it. Keep it off the altar.

5 comments:

molytail said...

See, to me it implies that The Odyssey is going to get hauled up onto an altar, cut open with a huge knife and then have it's entrails pulled out to be examined by a classroom full of children. What The Odyssey is, in itself, isn't important. The value of it lies simply in what examples of plot and character it's belly can offer up while the work itself lies dying on the table.

You truly have a way with words - has anyone ever pointed that out? I do hope that someone has - if not, consider it pointed. ;-)

(and yes, this is meant as a compliment!)

>^..^<

Dawn said...

My mother has but I never took her seriously. :D

Taylor said...

Welcome to NCLB. When standardized tests occupy 1/3 of the school year (no lie) there's not time for appreciation!

Dawn said...

1/3. Holy Crap.

I keep forgetting the stuff that teachers have to deal with that I never will.

Independent George said...

Taylor - if the kids can't read, how can they appreciate?

If they can read, why on earth is the school spending 1/3 of the year on the tests?