Monday, July 1, 2013

A Raisin In The Sun

I've spent the last 3.5 days packing up our apartment (to move to a house a couple blocks away), teaching our kids to play chess (while cracking myself up by playing out several scenes of Searching for Bobby Fischer in my mind), running, napping, and reading up a storm. In fact, since Friday afternoon, I've read the following:
The Misfits,
Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key,
Getting Away with Murder (the true story of the Emmitt Till case),
The end of Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls,
Everything Doug Lemov has ever written on the Teach Like a Champion blog, and, most recently,
A Raisin in the Sun.

(all in all, about 700 pages, but, more interesting: Which one of these things is not like the other?)

I saved A Raisin in the Sun for last because I was least excited about it; I'd read it as a freshman in high school but didn't particularly like it. I remember, in fact, arguing with my English teacher about the movie adaptation, me on the side of "Sidney Poitier is totally over-acting this scene", and her on the side of "well, he was nominated for a Golden Globe largely on the basis of that scene so..."

Well, now.
It turns out I see things a little differently at 32 than I did when I was 14. This time, from cover to just-before-the-cover, I found the play profoundly heartbreaking. Not so much because of what math teachers would call the surface features of the play (the plot, for example), but rather because the underlying tension and frustration all but scream at the reader. It all felt very personal.

So, here are a couple takeaways:
1. The backdrop of this play is a wonderfully horrific description of the effects of systemic oppression, and
2. It is really, really hard for 14-year-olds to truly understand literature about the human condition.

Disclaimer re: #1: I haven't ever suffered the effects of systemic oppression directly, so I'm sure a lot of the meaning and connection was still lost on me.

Thoughts re: #2: Just as background knowledge influences literal and inferential comprehension in a big way, so life experience seems to be the driving factor behind emotional reactions to literature. As a teacher, this is a good reminder that some of your kids are going to connect very deeply to some themes, but not everybody really has the experience to get all worked up over a character deciding not to go to work for a couple days. This is why I cry get bad allergies in both eyes when I read The Giving Tree with my kids, while they're just glad we're reading a nice story together.

Bonus thoughts: Reading all of this in such a short time was a good reminder that there is a huge difference between good literature and great literature, and the distinction is just as much in the reader's mind as it is in the text itself.

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