We started off talking about the final chapters and how the response to the aftermath of the Dust Bowl sounds eerily familiar to our lives today. The same questions still rage: what is the value of a place? Does it only have value if it can be used? Just as Roosevelt proposed planting the Plains with trees to hold down the soil, we also talked about whether that means that we'd learned nothing from the last ten years. The Plains wasn't designed for trees--so would we only be courting further disaster, introducing vegetation which it was never designed to have? We'll be talking about Wangari Maathai later in the semester and the Green Belt Movement, but it seemed pertinent to bring it up now too.
My students were surprised how political the book became, how much the government and politics were involved in the Dust Bowl--in all stages. We came to rest on the question of where do we go from here? What do we do? (This is exactly the question I wanted them to come to, because WP3 is all about that...) My students were also really stuck on learning more about the Dust Bowl and other historical events in an English class than they ever did in a history class. And then I told them that history is only boring if you forget it's about real people.
Then we turned to their projects. This time, I had them imagine the disaster they're researching and write it as a story. Where are the concrete details, the sensory details? What was this disaster like? What did it smell like, feel like? They wrote for a while, more feverishly than I've seen them write in a long time. I wrapped them up after a few minutes and had them recast the interview they'd just done into a narrative. Some of them had expressed admiration for how Egan writes, the way he incorporates voices, but were nervous about trying out those techniques for themselves. So I wanted them to try. What does the person look like, what does their voice sound like? Where are you sitting? I'm really looking forward to how their paper turns out. So far, the blogs they've been putting together have been terrific and I'm really excited to see how they turn out. There will be some adjustments I make to the project as a whole, but so far, things are going fairly well.
Today, my 252 class is turning in a draft of their short story--and I'm excited to see what those look like, having talked about them with various students over the past couple of weeks. Should be interesting!