A couple of months ago, one of my friend texted me. She’s a high school English teacher in Texas, and though she is every bit as qualified as (if not more qualified than) I am when it comes to the pedagogy of teaching English and literature, she often comes to me when she needs help solving a problem with literature or connecting with her students. I appreciate that she values my opinion, and I’ve always valued the conversations we have about books and teaching and life in general.
The theme of this conversation was her displeasure with teaching The Great Gatsby. I personally have never taught Gatsby; I’ve only taught English at the middle school level, but I can imagine what drudgery it could be from year to year. The students she teaches are not very different from the students I have been teaching for the past ten years. The nouveau riche lifestyle of the New York elite described by F. Scott Fitzgerald is not something many of my students could even begin to connect with without a lot of scaffolding. It would take a lot of front loading and relevantizing (I’m positive this is a word) in a way that many students would lose interest before they even cracked the cover.
And then working through the language, explaining the ideaology of the spoiled elite, and making sure you harp over the symbolism of that green light so that when those students are 36 years old and remember nothing else about the book, they remember the green light (trust me, it happens. It’s a tale as old as time. Most of the people who where in my AP English class only remember the green light and that there was a character named Daisy. I’ve now exhausted the list of things remembered from Gatsby.) And while I’m confident my friend teaches this book very well and addresses the important themes, and works very hard to make this book something more than just some fleeting book in the lives of her students that only crops up as a recovered memory when they think of the color green, she felt it was time for a change.Read more