Yesterday was the first day back from spring break, so I planned something lively for class. I thought I knew what to expect from my students, and I was right: when they came to my class on Monday morning, they were functioning in a stupor not unlike jet lag. Most of them, especially the seniors who have already been accepted to grad schools or who are in the midst of job interviews, were trying desperately to remember why they thought it was a good idea to take an elective course when they could have just slept late all semester instead. I knew something interactive was in order just to wake them up.
In one class, we've been talking about attitudes towards nature, how underlying attitudes can inform politics, and how literature can be used to get people thinking and questioning those attitudes. So I divided the students into groups and told them to take a children's story, analyze the attitudes towards nature in the story, rewrite the story, and then perform it as a skit. They had to make reference to at least two texts we've read this semester.
The skits went pretty well. Actually, most of them were hysterically funny. And serious at the same time. The Three Little Pigs became three privileged white people fleeing the city to build a gated community in a pastoral setting. The wolf, who had lived on the land for generations, gave an impassioned speech against the evils of rampant development and the need for urban growth limits. The Oldest Little Pig, when asked whether or not she cared at all about ecology, replied, "Oh, but I do. I use recycled coffee filters."
The Little Mermaid became the Powerful Mermaid, who decided that the Prince needed therapy because he was caught in the web of consumerism and cracking under the pressures of corporate life. She made all kinds of sarcastic comments about how she could not imagine why any mermaid would choose to become human like the prince, since humans are the most evil of species. Eventually the Prince, who had damn few lines in the whole skit, decided to change his ways and become a sea creature. I think there was going to be more about how he ended up with SpongeBob SquarePants instead of the Mermaid but we ran out of time.
My favorite class yesterday, though, was my last class of the day. The students, who saw "Creativity Day" on the assignment schedule and who know me pretty well, took matters into their own hands. One woman brought a guitar and sang us folk songs. Another student took my supply of index cards and passed them out. While we listened to the music, each of us wrote a couple lines of poetry on the index cards. At the end, a student shuffled the cards and read them aloud as a collaborative poem. What was amazing was how well this worked: class discussions all semester, the most recent awful news about the future of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and the background of music got us all thinking on the same track.
In my book, any class that features Joni Mitchell songs is a worthwhile class.