Why is this blog called Gatsby in L.A.?
I have terrible trouble keeping a discussion to one single topic because I’m curious about many things (a quality that caused significant problems for me as a teacher). If this blog is not going to become a Unabomber-like manifesto, I need to narrow my topic. I’ve decided to focus on teachers in L.A. because I live here and to focus on a single subject: 11th grade English, which is almost always American Literature.
Why American Lit?
A) because American Lit is my favorite, so much of it written by outsiders, immigrants, wanderers and dreamers all in search of their place in America.
B) because a lot of American Lit is incredibly tough sledding and therefore a huge challenge for English teachers. Relaxed in a bubble bath with the Declaration of Independence lately? I didn’t think so.
Why 11th grade? Because 11th grade English classes are going to be the first to be tested in California under the new Common Core standards next year. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, don’t worry–I’ll cover it in later posts. Basically, I mean that teachers across California are about to get their heads ripped off by Common Core tests, but 11th grade English teachers will get their heads ripped off first.
Why Gatsby? My initial plan was to cover only the teaching of this book because Gatsby is the quintessential tragic believer in the American Dream, and education is the engine of the meritocracy we call the American Dream. Beautiful, right?
But reality happened as I started meeting teachers and found that there are many terrific 11th grade English teachers who are not teaching Gatsby at all. I also, full disclosure, will be following one teacher who is teaching 12th grade but is so great I wanted to observe his class. I know that’s inconsistent. But you know what American Lit all-star Ralph Waldo Emerson said about foolish consistency being the hobgoblin of little minds. In fact, to be even more honest, I’ve already interviewed at least six amazing people who are not English teachers at all. Two are math teachers, one is a professor, two are PhD candidates and one is a principal. But they are really, really interesting.
For the literal-minded, remember that Gatsby didn’t go to his own parties. Why should he go to mine?
So Gatsby is more a central metaphor than a literal focus. Who is more mythic, more emblematic of the American Dream gone wrong than this farm-boy-turned-mobster-turned-socialite trying to shimmy his way up the social totem pole? What could be a better example of the kind of “dead white guy” literature that many people believe is no longer relevant and others will fight for until they’re purple in the face?
Also, I taught Gatsby, and it did not go very well for reasons I’ll explain in a later post.
Anyway, my hope is to ask questions and listen to answers, to hear stories and understand people in 11th grade classrooms across L.A. I don’t want to rant here. I want to learn.
I hope that either clarifies things or is so confusing that you’ve given up hope of understanding what I’m doing but want to come along for the ride anyway because life is a journey, not a destination, to quote Emerson, who may have said that, or Aerosmith, who definitely sang that.
Ready? Let’s go!