I know that just a week ago, I said that I wasn't going to think about school prep anymore. Well, it didn't take me long to break that self-imposed rule (which doesn't surprise me in the least).
Last week, after the police shootings of two black men but before the shooting attack on police in Dallas -- and how horrifying that this is the way I'm marking time this summer -- I was thinking about what I'm teaching around race this coming year in my AP rhetoric/comp class: Frederick Douglass's Narrative (always!), Ta-Nehisi Coates's Between the World and Me (teaching for the first time), several essays and speeches, maybe my dangerous words project (which I'll decide on once it's clear what kind of community the class has formed during the first term). And I was wondering about dropping The Grapes of Wrath (which, as you may recall, I've never actually read), and thinking about novels that make social arguments ...
... and suddenly I thought, "Hey, what about Uncle Tom's Cabin?!"
It's one of those cultural touchstones that most people have never actually read; its attitudes toward race are complicated, which means there's plenty to discuss; it's one of the most influential and popular novels in American history; there has been lots of ongoing debate about its literary merit (I am squarely in the camp that it is a good novel that deserves to be in the canon); it created the stereotype of the "Uncle Tom," which is divorced from the novel itself, which is interesting; so much to talk about! And although it's long, it will be a quicker and more enjoyable read than Grapes of Wrath ever would.
I'm pretty jazzed about this decision! My summer reading has thus taken a turn, and right now I'm reading David S. Reynolds's Mightier than the Sword: Uncle Tom's Cabin and the Battle for America, which I'm enjoying very much. The fact that I wanted to dive right in, whereas I was dragging my feet on starting Steinbeck, says a lot. I hope that my students find this a rewarding read; it helps to know that the teacher's enthusiasm goes a long way in shaping the students' enthusiasm.