and Carpe Diem
Type of Activity:
Individual and Group.
Two 50-minute class periods.
10, 11, and 12.
In preparing for this lesson, educators are asked to consider themes broached in Jerrod's Bohn's LitTunes essay, Keep the Passion: Joyce and Cobain vs. Woolf and Young: Modernist Fiction and Rock Music Open Connections between Issues of Youth, Aging, Suicide, and Passion for Life. Mr. Bohn's text raises a sensitive question for classroom teachers and administrators: Should teachers facilitate discussions and writing assignments about the potentially controversial topics of suicide, death, and carpe diem? The lesson challenges educators to think about difficult topics that we are sometimes not willing or supposedly not able to address in the high school classroom.
If you agree that the themes raised by Mr. Bohn are appropriate for high school students, this lesson provides opportunities
for teaching both literacy and life skills. Whether or not we want to admit the bitter vile of suicide and early death into a class of adolescents, we should know that our students are thinking about these things — that they are discussing, reading, and writing (through text message and e-mail) about the pleasures of the moment and the mysteries of death and dying.
Is it appropriate, then, to guide students toward informed and literate interpretations of these experiences? Yes — if you believe that to sweep these issues under the proverbial carpet is a poor alternative to bringing them into the light of day. Death, dying, and seizing the moment with little regard for future consequences are issues essential to the human experience, and very much a part of adolescent life. They are real things of great emotional power — and they are not going away.
In this lesson, students will discuss and analyze the concept of carpe diem as expressed in the movie, Dead Poets Society. Then they will connect the concept of carpe diem to messages expressed in the lyrics of Neil Young's tune, "My My Hey Hey (Out of the Blue)." They will write a thesis statement. Students will also gather songs from their personal library that relate to the ideas and concepts identified in their study of the movie and Young's lyrics, and discuss them in a Socratic Circle. The lesson concludes with a short writing exercise.
By lesson's end, students will have a better understanding of the issues at hand and how they are addressed in cinema and popular music. If the teacher chooses to continue along lines outlined in Mr. Bohn's essay, students will be prepared to read, discuss, and compare James Joyce's "The Dead" and Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway following LitTunes methodology.
1. Discuss and critically analyze music lyrics in order to demonstrate an understanding of theme, tone, and message.
2. Demonstrate critical thinking skills by making intertextual connections between different song lyrics.
3. Demonstrate analytical thinking and writing skills in composing a thesis statement and a short argumentative paper.
4. Develop an understanding of the theme of carpe diem as it relates different authors and genres.
DVD of Dead Poets Society
Neil Young's "My My Hey Hey (Out of the Blue)," available for download on iTunes or through purchasing his 1990 release, Rust Never Sleeps.
Show the clip from Dead Poets Society where, at the beginning of the film, Robin Williams takes his students out to the hallway and whispers "carpe diem" over and over while looking at photographs of past students of the private school. Williams' character exclaims, "These boys were just like you and now they are fertilizing daffodils. We are all just food for worms, lads."
1. Ask students to jot down their reaction to the short film clip with the aim of answering the discussion question, "What does carpe diem mean to you?" After three to five minutes, have students share their responses with others in the classroom.
2. While playing Neil Young's tune, distribute the handout, "Socratic Circle for 'My My Hey Hey (Out of the Blue).' " Tell students the handout includes the lyrics of the tune. Instruct students to make notes next to the lyrics as they complete a critical, close reading of the text in preparation for a Socratic Circle discussion. Tell them that detailed directions about how to do a close reading are included on the handout.
ABOUT THE SOCRATIC CIRCLE:
LitTunes has prepared an indepth explanation of the Socratic Circle and how it can be implemented in the classroom. Click the blue arrow.
3. Assemble students into a Socratic Circle formation and ask them to discuss the lyrics, focusing, at least in part, on the discussion question, "What is the central message in Young's song?"
4. At the end of the discussion, ask students to write a thesis sentence, which should delineate the central message of the song and provide supporting details for their conclusion.
5. HOMEWORK: For the next day's class period, students need to collect titles (and lyrics if possible) of three-to-five songs from their own collections which relate to the messages in Young's song.
End Day One.
6. Begin the second day's class by asking students to share the names of one or two of their songs that connect to the theme of carpe diem. After the students have shared, assemble them in small groups (three, four, or five) and ask them to share their songs in more detail and then discuss the process they undertook to make the connections.
7. Ask the students to choose one of the three-to-five songs they selected and then write a short, argumentative piece explaining why and how their song is connected to Young's song.
Through these activities, students will gain insight into themes relevant to upcoming lessons based on the literature of Joyce and Woolf and how it connects to the lyrics of Young and Cobain. Students will make meaningful and relevant connections to their own music and explore how it relates to literature and to life. Intertextuality is a literacy skill performed by higher level readers and is worthy of inclusion in any classroom.
Teachers may choose to continue along the path charted in this lesson by having students create formal analytical essays based on the concept of connecting pop tunes to canonical literature. For information about LitTunes methodology, please consult these links:
The Give and Take between Song Lyrics and Canonical Texts Helps Students Read and Appreciate Classic Literary Works.
Read, Write, and Rock: Puttin' the Pop in the Classroom.
Here is a list of other literary texts and pop tunes that fit themes raised in the lesson. These works can be tailored by the creative teacher to guide writing and reading exercises, or to inspire discussions — in Socratic Circle format or otherwise — about issues of life, death, and carpe diem.
"Hay for the Horses" by Gary Snyder
"To An Athlete Dying Young" by A.E. Housman
"Dust in the Wind" by Kansas
"Sing for the Moment" by Eminem
"Gravedigger" by Dave Matthews Band
"Nothing Gold Can Stay" by Robert Frost.
Another work especially worth considering is Chris Crutcher's latest novel, Deadline (HarperCollins, 2007). The narrative focuses on high school
senior Ben Wolf, who is told by doctors that he is going to die within a year, presumably of an aggressive blood disease. Rather than seeking the best treatments and trying to stave off the illness in hopes of beating it, Ben accepts death and takes carpe diem to a new level during his time left on earth. In the typical curriculum, Crutcher's work, given the age of the protagonist and the complexity of the issues of death and loss, as well as the works by Joyce and Woolf that are explored in Mr. Bohn's essay, are taught to sophomores, juniors, and seniors. However, the topics and themes can stretch down into the middle grades when they are addressed with sensitivity, structure, and compassion.
By adapting the works identified in this lesson plan to the goals and objectives of authentic education, teachers can frame conversations about critical issues with works that are finely tuned to the ages of their own students. When asked to make connections through music or film, students can engage in serious discussions without too much risk. When students see themselves-their feelings, thoughts, emotions — in the texts they are studying, the greatest possible opportunity for learning will present itself.
07 / 26 / 08
Printer Friendly Lesson Plan:
CLICK the illustration below for a printer friendly version of the Fragility of Life Lesson Plan.
Printer Friendly Student Handout:
CLICK the Atlantic Records logo below for a printer friendly version of the Student Assignment handout, "Socratic Circle for 'My My Hey Hey (Out of the Blue).' "
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