Monday, January 27, 2014

Aeschylus, Tolkien, and Shakespeare


I've been soldiering along with my commitment to study literature (and history/philosophy/composition) with the big boys in our co-op this year. The literature hasn't all been great (I won't pretend that the Mesopotamian and Egyptian literature was all that thrilling), but we've read some amazing stuff. Homer, for instance. Wow. Just... wow. And this week we read Agamemnon, by Aeschylus. That was pretty awesome too! (The week before we had The Trojan Women, by Euripides, which was so sad I couldn't love it.) The boys were mildly interested in Homer, but generally speaking, they lack enthusiasm. Which makes our discussions rather one sided. I do my best, but what is a person to do with a student who says of a drama and blood-filled story like Agamemnon, as one of my sweet boys did today, "It was boring." Boring? Really? Horrifying and gruesome, I'll grant you, but boring? No!

It's not dreadful or anything. They are good boys. And the "classroom" atmosphere is a good thing for both my kids. And Katie loves the arts & crafts she does with her class, and right now all the kids seem to be enjoying the play writing unit I've been doing with both classes. (The younger class has put together a really bang-up version of Theseus and the Minotaur, and the older class is doing an interesting version of Midas and the Golden Touch -- "King Khalifa and the Swag Touch.") And both my kids benefit from the excellent Latin class. However...

I had expected this to be our last year of co-op. We've gotten down to three families, and I had reason to believe one of our families would be moving away at the end of this school year. I was sorry. Mostly. But I'd come to terms with it. But then last week I learned that the family in question would most likely not be moving, and my dear friend (our co-op leader) wanted to know what my plans were for teaching writing next year! Ha! Next year we study the Middle Ages through to the American Revolution, which is a heck of a period to cover in one year. Our curriculum gives short shrift to my favorite part -- the Middle Ages -- and way more time that I care for on the Reformation. You'd hardly believe how much time. So, my plans involved heavy adaptation of our curriculum, lots of Beowulf, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and mountains of Shakespeare. But, of course, that only works if we're not part of a co-op.

I explained. And she sweetly explained her idea about cutting co-op back to just doing Latin, composition (which requires some literature, for something to write about), and some speech & history-related crafts for Katie's group. That sounded pretty good! And then I had another week of teaching literature to the boys. Sigh. One boy in particular, who I like and would be glad to please, is bored with almost everything we read. I dread discussing Dante or Milton with him. During a lull in class he was excitedly talking with Travis about something to do with The Silmarillion, and I thought, "Maybe next year I should finally do what he's been begging to do for the past couple years and assign The Lord of the Rings for class." There is actually a curriculum out there called Literary Lessons in Lord of the Rings (I know, the mind boggles!), and I've thought that, if I had a "spare year" it might be sort of fun to teach. Before properly thinking the thing through, I mentioned the possibility to him. Finally! Enthusiasm! Only.... then I remembered that Travis's 10th grade year is hardly a "spare" year. Actually, it is a pretty intense year, literarily speaking. Along with Milton and Dante, there is Shakespeare! Not to mention Cervantes, Swift, Donne, etc., etc. But it was too late.

Also, as it turns out, Literary Lessons in Lord of the Rings doesn't focus on writing. Given the name, I can't think why I thought it would. Actually, it does seem to include writing assignments (I'm judging it by the internet samples and reviews until my copy arrives), but not the sort I want. Soooo... . I'm cutting down our Tapestry literature reading by about twelve weeks (they'll hardly notice if I sneak in a little poetry in an otherwise LoTR week, will they?) and adding in the sort of writing assignments that they need to be doing. I figure they can hardly begrudge me nice persuasive or analytical essays when I'm devoting a chunk of our class time to discussing fantasy literature. Right?

Anyway,  now I'm actually almost a little excited about the thing! I love Tolkien, and I really love when the boys are excited about discussing books! So I think it will be okay after all. And now I just have to work on a list of books for Katie's class which will provide "grist" for the persuasive essay writing mill and not bore any of the kids. Or at least not Katie!

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