Monday, December 31, 2007
Conrad for Dummies
I used to teach my freshmen English students an essay by William Golding called Thinking as a Hobby. In it Golding ranked humans into three categories. Grade 3 thinkers never really think. They follow the herd, they shout the herd's slogans, they absorb without processing, their appetites and whims control their actions. Grade 2 thinkers see contradictions and tear things down and critique everyone and everything without ever doing much else. Grade 1 thinkers are original and smart and seek Truth. Golding positioned himself, of course, into this final category, and included Albert Einstein as well. At the end of the piece Golding subtly indicates the tongue-in-cheek nature of his essay by describing a not-so-intellectual meeting with this other Grade 1 thinker.
Before I started discussing the essay with my classes, I'd always ask if they'd read The Lord of the Flies in high school. After the inevitable chorus of affirmatives, we'd get down to business. I went through a long period wondering why it was that my mom had read this in school, and that I'd read it in school, and that now my students had read it in school. Wasn't there anything new to teach 9th graders?
I just revisited The Lord of the Flies for the first time since 9th grade, in preparation for the Praxis II teacher test. Now I understand full-well why English teachers still use it. The themes are enormous and easy to tackle; the symbols are potent and Biblically lush; the story is violent and fun and easy to discuss. Heart of Darkness too tough for your Grade 3 brain? Try The Lord of the Flies.