Reflections on Creating a 12th grade World Literature course
By Barbara Benson
I have finally reached that “last class” as a homeschooling educator. My youngest is entering her homeschooling senior year in high school in the fall. I am truly her specialist teacher now as most of her classes will be taken either online or at the campus of our local community college. Aside from finishing up her high school credits in areas like American Government, she will be taking foundation college courses as well as exploring her areas of possible interest for a major in college. So, knowing this was my last course to teach as a homeschooling parent, I wanted to think carefully on just what books, plays or poems I would present. The problem I had was narrowing down all the choices to fit into a one semester course!
In a Waldorf school, some of the possible English topics include The Transcendentalists, Russian Literature, Modern European Literature, Creative writing, Lyric Poetry , Goethe’s Faust and possibly Ibsen , Hesse or Nietzche etc. ( taken from David Mitchell’s The Waldorf School Curriculum, An Overview for American Waldorf School Teachers).There was no way all that could fit into the allocated semester my daughter granted me! She will be taking Creative Writing at her community college next spring, but that still left me with a wide field of potential literary players.
I taught the Transcendentalists this past year as part of her American Literature class, but we had not been able to get to Hamlet which is often taught junior year in a Waldorf school. Instead, we had done two of Shakespeare’s historical plays (Julius Caesar ; Antony and Cleopatra) to go along with her junior year World History course. Since my daughter specifically insisted on Hamlet for this final year, I knew that would be my starting point.
As I continued to reflect on some thematic context for this class, I finally came upon the theme of Tragedy and Transformation as a unifying idea for the course. Goethe’s Faust would be another key piece of literature and would be a good follow up to Hamlet under the tragedy theme ( with some redemption too). Then I knew I wanted to teach one book of Russian literature, but which one? I finally decided ( after much inner debate since I would have liked to teach a whole unit on Russian literature using Staley’s Splinters of the Sun as my guide) on The Brothers Karamazov since Dostoyevsky is my favorite Russian author. And that book surely fits under the theme of Transformative Redemption Through Suffering (especially the character Dmitri). It is a very long book and I did consider his much shorter Notes From The Underground as a replacement, but I decided that I needed more redemption and less anti-hero in the course.
Another important play, often taught in the senior year of high school is Ibsen’s A Doll’s House. I remember vividly that sound of the door slamming at the end of the play in my own teenage years. Perhaps I could call that slice of the theme- Transformation through Action.
For poetry, I decided on poems from the English Romantics and I had some of their selections from an old copy I had on hand of Oak Meadow’s World Literature syllabus. So Wordsworth, Keats and Thomas were added to the poetic mix. Now I could thematically call that poetic section- Creative Transformation.
Since I had now run the gamut of tragedy, redemption, realists and romantics, I decided to end the semester with the theme of Transformation through Self- Realization. My daughter’s summer reading will be the ancient Hindu epic The Ramayana and I thought Siddhartha by Hesse (which I loved as a 19 year old) would be a good bookend for another version of a spiritual epic, but from a German author’s viewpoint. I decided to keep on with the theme of Self-Realization by ending the semester with a short week of selected poems from two of my favorite Eastern poets, Rumi and Kabir.
So, here is how my ramblings on teaching a World Literature course can turn into a Class Outline. I still did not have enough time for it all in one semester but with some creative juggling ( starting earlier in August than her community college starts and combining the Romantic Poets with the Realist Ibsen play in the same three weeks), I believe I have managed to put it all together as follows:
12th grade World Literature novels/poetry/plays: ROMANTICS AND REALISTS; TRAGEDY AND TRANSFORMATION
OUTLINE OF CLASS SCHEDULE for FALL 2016:
Your first assignment will be the classic Hindu Epic The Ramayana which will be your summer reading, starting JUNE 6. This is a 5 week assignment which you can complete over the 8 weeks of summer break. The Assignments can be handed in as you complete them but all must be submitted, including the essay, by the first day of class for fall on AUGUST 1.
Hamlet, 5 weeks (see weekly assignments in your folder)- 8/1-9/2
Faust, 5 weeks (see weekly assignments in your folder)-9/5-10/7
TRANSFORMATIVE REDEMPTION THROUGH SUFFERING:
The Brothers Karamazov, 5 weeks (see weekly assignments in your folder)-10/10-11/11
TRANSFORMATION THROUGH ACTION: REALISM
A Doll’s House, 3 weeks ( see weekly assignments in your folder)11/14-12/2
TRANSFORMATION THROUGH CREATIVITY: ROMANTIC POETS
Selected Romantic European Poets, 3 weeks;( see weekly assignments in your folder) Please note that these poem assignments (and the composition assignment) must be completed during the same three week period as we study A Doll’s House: 11/14-12/2
TRANSFORMATION THROUGH SELF-REALIZATION :
Siddhartha, novella, 2 weeks (see weekly assignments in your folder)12/5-12/16
The Mystic Poets: Rumi and Kabir assignment: 5 days: 12/16-12/22
Blessings on your homeschooling journey!