Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Road Tripping on Tuesday

“I kind of feel sorry for him,” K said.

The remark took me by surprise.  Our Great American Road Trip course has been following the real life adventures of literary icon Michael Crichton as it unfolds in his autobiographical page-turner, Travels.  We’ve followed Crichton into the depths of the sea, to the top of Kilimanjaro, and across a Pakistani landslide.  We trekked along side him into the Rwandan jungle and the Mayan pyramids. And I’m not even sure I’ve adequately covered the highlights.  In short, this guy was a living, breathing issue of National Geographic. Personally, I have vacillated among a range of responses: envy, most certainly, disbelief, a desire to retrace his itinerary….but pity? No, that never occurred to me.

K—and as it happened, several of his cohorts, were of the opinion that Crichton’s high-octane adventures were a sign of discontent, of not being comfortable with himself or his life.  They saw him as a thrill-seeking high chaser.  Others, such as the writer below, were just incredulous:

For the most part, though, the students were more excited b Crichton than Steinbeck.  They found him "more modern," and many were really interested in the opening segment, Medical Days, where Crichton recounts his experiences studying at, and ultimately quitting Harvard Medical School: 

When I was developing the course, I was really excited by the idea of the students creating “trip journals” as a response to each book, but I wasn’t sure how they would respond.  Each trip journal is to contain:

·       Questions for each reading (they have to come each day with 3 discussion topics)
·       3 personal reflections
·       1 formal essay (based on one of your reflection pieces)

Two of the following:

·       artistic response (such as themed journal cover, sketch, or other artistic element)
·       souvenirs (“photos” from the internet, maps, brochures, etc.)
·       video or multimedia response
·       Three scholarly articles with one page summary
·       Two scholarly articles and two draft pages (for their final 12 page paper)

I think literature is most valuable when it is personal; when it's an interaction between a per on and pages.   It is the job of a student to make meaning--in all disciplines, really, but especially in literature.  That meaning might come from connections to personal events, links to interesting concepts from other disciplines or literature, or trough a keen imagination.  I wanted the trip journals to allow room for students to make meaning on their own terms, in their own way.  I couldn’t be any more pleased with the journals thus far.
This student mapped and scrapbooked key events

This guy made travel brochures from some of Crichton's destinations

This person drew flags from everywhere Crichton went.

But the experience goes beyond just making meaning for the sake of enjoying a good read.  I see my students internalizing ideas, concepts and lessons that they, themselves forwarded in class discussions.  For instance, M drew a connection from an observation Steinbeck made about how people tend to think their own lives, homes, ideas, etc. are superior to everyone else's to the concept of ethnocentrism, which he had just learned about in his Communications course.  He shared the idea in class an then another student picked up on it as part of a personal reflection:

How do you "make meaning" when you read?  What options would you choose for your trip journal if you were in our class? Do you think Crichton was foolhardy or adventurous?  I know I've been gone awhile, but talk back to me...I've missed our online class!

(note: The Great American Road Trip literature series is typically a Friday Feature this semester.  However, spring break and life events derailed my entire blogging schedule. This Tuesday post is meant as a show of good faith that I am still here!)

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