The Monomyth, My Students’ Journeys, and My Fear

On September 20, 2013, I challenged my college level World Mythology class to embark on their own Monomyth. For the past four months they have been on their journeys, succeeding, failing, and changing direction. Tonight, over dinner and dessert, they present their journeys to their families, staff, and administration. I am exceptionally nervous.

You see, I’ve never done this before. Have never said, “Hey kids, go change your lives and document the change, because you’ll be graded on it.” I have often thought during this semester: What am I doing?

That’s because there have been other end-of-the-semester presentations, but they have been of the academic bent, highlighting research. Throughout the semester I have demanded high academics, so the course has not suffered, but this direction I’m taking the culmination has not been done.

And like with all new things, I’m second-guessing my choice. Not because of the students’ presentations, but because of the potential reaction.

It is my sincerest hope that the audience gets this. I want them to see that the purpose of education, in regard to mythology, is not to learn every name of every god and goddess, nor every creation and flood myth, but to understand the nature of storytelling.

All our lives our stories: the ones others tell about us, and the ones we tell ourselves. Throughout the course I have asked the students to look for this again and again: myth as a suggestion for how to live. And in the Monomyth, often the ordinary individual becomes the hero. I cannot think of a better message to send to my students.

I want them to see that being the hero is recognizing you are the narrator of your life. Narrator does not equal master. Often life moves out of our control, and this truth must be accepted. However, that does not leave us powerless. We can focus on the details that matter, and we can shift the story’s perspective, so the tragic is a blessing, and the mundane, paradise.

This is why I wanted my students to change something, because the practice of altering one’s life is the heart of success. All too often there is a passivity to how we approach who and what we are, how we live. There a myriad reasons for this: fear, complacency, indifference, and on and on. Regardless of the source, the results are often sad and about “lives of quiet desperation.”

Therefore, it is my greatest hope that the families and staff gathered will understand my premise, that to properly educate is to simply tell a story. One that’s been told countless times. The trick, however, is to tell it in a way that entices and that asks the listener to question it, and to analyze it, and in some way, make it his or her own.

Tonight, we will all teach one another, and then let the stories echo, and live on.

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The Experience, Not Only the Results

August is the Sunday of summer. The days are shorter and already we’ve had nights that whisper about fall. And in those whispers I hear too much, because so much awaits me as I turn the calendar a find that gleaming September staring back, asking: You ready?

I don’t know.

Education

Every September requires I go back to school. It’s a right of passage that most of us are glad to have outgrown, but that’s not an option for me. Nor is ignoring the changes in education: the Common Core State Standards. They exist and are being implemented with begrudging fanfare. However, I do consulting work on the side, and I have created numerous ELA lessons that align with the CCSS. They are, in a word, boring.

That’s not to say educators will only use the types I have seen and won’t create dynamic opportunities for their students, because that always happens, regardless of the mandate. The difference with this reform is the unspoken message that the standards are more of a curriculum than a series of benchmarks. Therefore, teachers are looking to deliver content in a method that addresses the tenants of the CCSS first, and the needs of the students, second. And therein lies the problem. When you move the content to the front of the classroom and place the students behind, you’ve already failed. I can teach an unengaged teenager almost nothing. But I can teach an engaged student anything. Good teachers find a way to reach the individual.

Now the struggle will be how to do both effectively. Those CCSS results are measured, and they count. But the immeasurable experience of the students matters even more. ┬áTherefore, I posit that educators start by asking the students what they desire from their education and build from there. That’s pretty much how I go about writing.

Writing

Speaking of which, have you heard I have another novel coming out in just over a month? Seriously, if you pre-order Dare Me, it releases on September 17th. The thought of this makes me ill. Not because I don’t love this work. I do, and reviews are indicating that readers will, also. Really, my anxiety is similar to my issues with the CCSS.

As an author, I have to entice. The work must be strong, but so must be the delivery. I have to inform people that Dare Me exists without being an annoying beacon sending the message: Buy my book! Buy my book! Buy my book! Who listens to that guy?

Which is why I had the trailer created (below, in case you missed it), am lining up events (more on these, soon) and am harassing the local media for interviews. It is my hope that I am doing this well, am being creative and not annoying, and mostly, that I am engaging my audience, not shoving my work at them. Fortunately, I’ve had practice. Anyone who says teaching is for those who can’t, has never asked an educator to step into another set of shoes. That classroom is an unbelievable training ground.

What to do?

I promise that my students will be engaged with English education this year and that my readers will be engrossed by Dare Me. I will be behind the scenes hoping I’ve done a good job, but all the while knowing that regardless of the outcome, I’ll continue to strive for better. Not only for results (test scores and sales figures), but the experience.

Life is something to enjoy, not something to get through. Sadly, education and reading for so many are the latter, not the former. I am not comfortable with that idea. In my work as an educator and as an author, it is my intent to make the most of the time. Not only mine, but for those with whom I have contact. Because when those whispers start next summer, I want to be right here, preparing for another year, and another novel, knowing I’m doing the best I can with my time by providing education and stories that matter.