The NEH grant I received is a terrific opportunity not only for professional growth but for personal growth as well. For those of you who are unaware of what NEH opportunities for summer enrichment are, you should check it out at http://www.neh.gov/divisions/education/summer-programs. As a nationally funded program, NEH grants are always in danger of being cut, but there are many reasons why summer enrichment and educational opportunities are so important for teachers, especially at the K-12 level. I won’t get on my soapbox about this; I could talk for hours. What I will do is share some of our discussions and my experiences so that you can see for yourself that I’m not just on vacation in Santa Cruz.
The program I was accepted to be a part of is entitled Great Adaptations: Dickens in Literature and Film (See the program website here https://sites.google.com/site/nehdickens2014/). Before arriving in Santa Cruz it was expected that all participants (16) have the 2 primary texts read: Great Expectations and A Christmas Carol, both Dickens novels are what we refer to as the originary texts. Over the course of the next 4 weeks we will be discussing not only the core texts, but their evolutionary process in how they are adapted culturally, historically and contextually all of which will culminate in a final project which we will submit to our seminar director by September. By collaborating with a diverse group of teachers from across the nation I am able to compare ideas, incorporate strategies and brainstorm critical thinking strategies that not only help me reach my students, but also help me dig inside myself to become a better more focused educator, rejuvenated in the fall (which is vital in a profession that is under a constant barrage of internal and external negative energy).
Upon arrival I settled into my house. I am lucky enough to be staying off campus. At first I was nervous about being isolated from other seminar participants, but then I realized how fortunate I was because I have two unique roommates broadening my experience as a whole. Maggie is my landlord and she is a writing professor at a local college in Santa Cruz and Jennifer is a junior as UCSC. Jennifer has unique insight into what it is like to be a college student on this campus and has given me lots of advice on how/where/when to go places around town and the campus. She is working on campus this summer with a group of middle school students, girls, who the engineering program has designed a camp to intrigue and attract a more diverse range of applicants to their program. I look forward to more discussions with her and Maggie as the summer progresses as they are both separate from my program they give me a break from the academia and keep me firmly grounded in the “real world” of the here and now.
The house I’m living in is surrounded by walking trails that are beautiful. There is a pond behind the house that is very low right now because the area is in the third year of a summer drought. This places a strain on the local ecosystem (which is filled with wildlife! I cannot even count how many deer I have seen on campus and they let you get so close it is a little frightening. And don’t get me started about the Mountain Lion signs all around the place and “what to do if you see a ML”. My favorite part is that it ends with: “And people have successfully fought off mountain lions with their bare hands.” As our tour guide said today (who kind of looked like Zach Morris, I’m not going to lie), it’s only a little comforting to know that I can punch a mountain lion in the face and hopefully win…um…yeah…FORTUNATELY that seems to be unlikely. SO we’re going to go with no mountain lion sightings this trip.
The campus itself has, in addition to the wildlife, given be a broader appreciation for local produce and farming. This campus has a sustainable farm and only about 50% of the land is used so that it can sustain much of its own produce. I wish that more places could be like that. Each week the campus sets up a farmers market at the base of campus to benefit the interns and farm and about 23% of the campus dining is supplied by the on campus farm and agricultural school. I find that to be amazing, not only because they choose to do it, but also in extreme whether challenges, such as draught conditions, they still make it work. Commitment is key.
Which brings me back to our coursework. Being committed to our study here is vital which is why I am so excited to be here to learn. One of the things we discussed today was the concept of adaptation. There are many ways to adapt a work: From x to y, of x for y, of x through y, of x beyond y. Each of these are done for different purposes and different audiences, different contexts and different cultures. When we begin our discussion of the adaptations, we have to keep all of that contextual information in mind not only when discussing the originary, but also the adaption and how that helps us with shifting perspective. Often when we look at adaptations in a class we ask our students to compare and contrast which leads them to only one conclusion: one is better than the other; they’re alike but they’re different. That is not the type of critical thinking we really want from our students. We don’t just want them to compare and contrast we want them to look at the purpose behind the choices authors, directors, and creators make when adapting a work for those different ideas. That’s where the deep thinking occurs.
This reminds me of what a student said to me earlier this year: “Ms. Carmichael, you’ve completely ruined movies for me.” “Oh?” I responded. “Yes, I can’t just watch anything anymore. I’m always looking for meaning.” I laughed and said, “Then I’m doing my job!” I want students to look at more things this way, not just movies but every text they read they need to look for intention. If we had more people in our world thinking critically on a regular basis, decisions would be a lot wiser.
Which is the point of the seminar. I love that we will be looking at just that. Here are a list of questions the participants posed for the rest of our discussions over the four weeks and I look forward to hearing what will be said and discussed:
1) How does the idea of authorship work as an obstacle to adaptation? (intentionality and ownership)
2) How might we begin with the adaptation before the orginary text?
3) Why are we afraid of “losing the text”?
4) How can the multiple versions coexist?
5) Do we even read the orginary text? (adaptation in lieu of rather than in conjunction with)
6) How does success of an adaptation or desire to produce, adapt and reflect cultural values?
7) What are we wanting to give our students? (cultural skills)
8) What are we teaching alongside these texts—how does curriculum fit together?
9) How can we engage students in a conversation about adaptation?
10) Why do we feel we must choose the “best” adaptation?
As I continue with this program, I am excited to learn not only from my colleagues and roommates but also, hopefully, from others too. This is a broad topic and one that applies not only to literature of Dickens but to the culture at large especially to the writing culture. As a writer I see the value in adaptation, not only studying and reading adaptations but even to a degree incorporating it in your own work sometimes which is why people write books like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, or Emma, Mr. Knightly and Chili-Slaw Dogs. We truly do live in the ‘culture of the copy’ as Hillel Schwartz says. But is that such a bad thing?