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literature

A Decade in Film and Literature: The 1880s

With spring break just around the corner, I couldn’t help but think about how quickly the year is passing by. How I wish we would spend weeks on each era of American history digging deep into the cultural, social, and everyday lives of Americans! But alas, we must march on.  For those that wish to use some free time to gain more in-depth knowledge of American history, focus on any decade from the past and you will likely find films, art, and novels are just a click away.

Dystopias for our Times

Every so often, I find myself teaching novels that are incredibly timely. In a time when the basic humanity of various groups is being questioned or even outright ignored, we may turn to literature to discover the consequences of such ideologies. The following novels share a sense that a social plan that ignores the fundamental truth about human dignity is doomed. But which doom we end up with is up to us: will these dystopian societies fail against the glow of the human spirit, or will we bargain away our shot at fulfillment for mere contentment, or even base survival?

A Reader's Guide to Race Relations

The riots in Ferguson, Mo., over the summer showed us that race remains a hot topic in the United States. While reading newspapers can aid our understanding of race, fiction and poetry can also shed light on this important issue. The Harlem Renaissance yielded many important works about race, and those remind us that a lot of the issues prevalent decades ago are still with us today.

History Across Content Areas

History shouldn’t be static. It’s not just a list of dates and events. History is truly about an in-depth look at a period-- its authors, artists, scientists, inventors, historians and participants. A study of history should include a close look at books by authors who study the era, who lived in the era, who wrote about the era. Let’s take the 1920s, a time of great change in the United States.

Teaching Turgenev's Novella "First Love"

Like many of us, high school students are often attracted to stories with characters going through similar struggles and life changes. I have found some success teaching Alan Sillitoe's novella The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1959), whose 17-year-old protagonist from a working class home, Colin Smith, has been caught burgling and is sent to a reform school. Discovering Smith’s gift for running, school officials enter him in a cross-country competition.

Teaching Faulkner: A Snopes You Can Believe In

For me, the best way to teach William Faulkner is to begin with the Snopes, that ornery, duplicitous, barn-burning family of itinerant farmers, blacksmiths, bigamists and bank presidents.  Faulkner does not come naturally to most high school students, and he can be particularly hard to decipher for born-and-bred urbanites, too many of whom see his backwoods people as little more than players in a freak show. The key is to get students beyond a character’s eccentricities to his or her nobility.

Beauty in Simplicity: Why I Teach Hemingway

The first beautiful thing about teaching Ernest Hemingway’s short stories is that a teacher is pretty much guaranteed that every student has read the assigned story by class time. That’s because Hemingway is so readily accessible, so seemingly simple. In fact, when I teach “Indian Camp,” the first story in the collection In Our Time, I tell students, with a straight face, that Hemingway wrote like a nine-year old.

Faculty Q&A with English Teacher James Vescovi

James Vescovi loved to write stories since the time he could hold a pencil. He grew up in Michigan and attended Miami University, majoring in English. After spending a year abroad, he earned a Master’s degree in American literature at Columbia University and then worked for twenty-five years as an editor and freelance writer before coming to Beekman.

How did you end up becoming an English teacher?

Does Literature Matter?

I had no expectation of teaching To Kill a Mockingbird this year. After all, The Beekman School is a high school, and most American students encounter Harper Lee's seminal work in middle school. But, to my astonishment, many of my students (and not just the international ones!) had not read the book. I myself had not cracked it open since the 8th grade. Teaching this book not only reacquainted me with Lee’s lifelike characters, but it also reminded me of why I chose to teach literature in the first place.

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