Wednesday, September 12, 2012

September 11 Lesson in English and Art History

The 9/11 Memorial at night
AP English Language/American Literature:

In my junior English class, a course in which we analyze rhetoric and in which we've begun the year by discussing Tim O'Brien's definitions of fact and fiction -- "happening-truth" and "story-truth" -- I asked my class to read "The Names" by Billy Collins and a Huffington Post article on September 11 First Responders. Here are both texts:

"The Names" by Billy Collins

September 11 Responders Still Waiting for Relief

For homework, I asked the students to answer, in a wiki post, the following question:

Read "The Names," a poem about Sept. 11 by Billy Collins and then read the _HuffPost_ article about Sept. 11 first responders. Which text had a greater effect on you and why? Was that effect emotional or cerebral? Explain your answer in a paragraph, citing specific proof from the text(s).

The assignment enabled me to broaden students' knowledge about September 11, expose them to poetry, and test them on skills I want them to develop, such as the ability to analyze their own response to what they're reading and to use proper textual proof in their arguments.

The 9/11 Memorial 

AP Art History

In AP Art History, we are about to begin studying the art of the ancient Near East, and so on September 11, I used the day to discuss the way war is depicted in the ancient world -- how it is glorified by leaders who use battles to show themselves as powerful men who have the favor of the gods and a ruthless ability to destroy enemies. I then took the students through the following slideshow, which was compiled by my art history students last year:

The Art of War

The slideshow culminates with Maya Ying Lin's Vietnam Memorial and the 9/11 Memorial, so students are able to see that the emphasis in war has shifted from the celebration of a leader's exploits to the mourning of the loss of the common soldier or civilian. This shift represents a radical change in view about what and who is important in battle.

The lesson on the 9/11 Memorial also allows me to introduce the concept of the use of water and landscape elements in the design of an architectural environment. For example, the deep abyss into which the water in the 9/11 Memorial falls reminds the viewer of the awful way the victims perished, but the water also represents rebirth and renewal. The trees surrounding the waterfalls are additional symbols of rebirth and renewal: they are all deciduous and so shed and grow leaves in the fall and spring. The landscape designer used, as well, trees from Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania, in order to include all victims of the day in the New York memorial. The slideshow linked above has more information about this moving tribute to the victims of September 11.

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