I haven’t taught 11th grade English in about five years, but when I did I remember that I tried my best to follow American literature chronologically, intertwining it with American history (occasionally combining my class with another teacher’s American history class for a few days), because there is something about the literature of our country and our culture that follows along pretty well with our history.
Luckily, doing so meant that by the middle to the end of October, I was usually somewhere in the early 1800s, which meant that if I had wanted to do something seasonal, I had at least a few writers to choose from. Edgar Allan Poe seemed to be the go-to choice, but I usually avoided him because by the time my students had me for a teacher, they had read so much Poe in middle and the early part of high school that he was a bit over-exposed. Besides, one of my favorite stories for Halloween has always been Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.”
This isn’t much of a surprise when you consider that I, along with quite a number of people from my generation grew up watching Disney’s cartoon version of the story of Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horesman on VHS (Disney has always been excellent when it comes to home video–when the first video stores in my town opened up in the early 1980s, the kids’ section was full of Disney tapes and we were constantly taking them out. I got more exposure to literary classics through Disney as a kid than just about anyone). I think that when I first attempted to teach “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” I had made the assumption that a number of my students had had a similar experience and might want to read the original material. After all, Washington Irving is one of those American literary figures that you simply cannot skip over if you’re covering the history of American literature. I mean, this may sound ignorant or off-base or something, but I’d put him right up there with Poe or even Hawthorne (whose “The Birth-Mark” and “Rappaccini’s Daughter” are two of my favorite short stories as well).
Unfortunately, things didn’t go as well as I expected. I remember struggling to figure out why, after one day of working on the story, my class seemed pretty lost and frustrated. So I did what I usually do in this situation–asked them why they didn’t seem to like it.
“It’s boring,” was the general response. Read the rest of this entry »