Teaching Critical Thinking and Creative Dissent

Guest post by Upper School English Teacher Larry Malkus:

This year marked my first time teaching the Writers in Revolt English elective. The literature of the course focuses on revolt and protest against societal expectations and prejudices. This year we began by reading Larry Kramer’s groundbreaking play, The Normal Heart – a dramatization of his real-life fight to draw attention to the burgeoning AIDS crisis in New York City during the 1980s. Next was Kate Chopin’s masterwork, The Awakening, which details the journey of a woman in the last decade of the 19th century as she struggles to find independence and fulfillment as something other than a wife and mother. Evelyn Waugh’s satire, A Handful of Dust, mercilessly exposes the preposterous hypocrisy of British high society in the 1930s. We wrapped up the semester with Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, a scathing indictment of the treatment of mental illness in the U.S. and a revealing look at the pressure society puts on us all to conform.

As we studied, discussed, and wrote about the literature, students also worked on a semester-long project requiring them to identify something – a practice, policy, belief, or institution – that they wished to revolt against. After considering and formulating various protest techniques, they drew attention to their personal revolt through assembly presentations, interviews, social media posts, and surveys. Finally, they executed their revolt in an effort to inspire change.

The objective of the project was to find an intersecting point at which students could relate to the authors they were studying. Just as the writers chose to revolt through their art, the goal was for students to find their own way to bring about change that they feel is necessary for our world today.

Although there were many outstanding projects, given the controversy surrounding this year’s Academy Awards, this short film by Upper School student Michael H. ’16 seemed especially relevant and worth sharing.

Teaching the elective proved to be exciting, thought provoking, and extremely gratifying. I look forward to my next class of “revolters” next fall.


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