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Author Topic: *Update* Please Help me Teach "A Modest Proposal"
NewZer0
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On Tuesday, I get to teach "A Modest Porposal." How cool is that? But I'm really worried about screwing it up, especially since I think my students hate me.

This unit is on rhetoric and how to analyze essays and ads and such. I was planing on discssing satire as well as the historical background of the piece.

I have access to a computer and DVD player, so I could play some Simpsons or Futurama, or show clips of the Daily Show. But the technology doesn't always work, and I don't know what to use for a back up plan.

I was also thinking of having them write their own satire, but I'm not sure how to structure that.

Any help, advice, tips, opinions would be most appreciated. Thank you!

--NewZer0

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SweetViolet
I'm Dreaming of a White Sale


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Well, it's easy to see what's wrong with American education these days.

Forget the gimmicks and just teach. Give the kids some context for the essay, and a vocabulary list for unfamiliar words or phrases.

Have them read it aloud, one paragraph at a time, then deconstruct the paragraph by asking questions of the class... "Where do you think he's going with this?" "Do you think he is being serious?" Be sure you explain that racism was rife in that time and place, and that the Irish were considered a separate race from the English.

As far as having them write their own satire, I don't think "A Modest Proposal," by itself, is a sufficient example. "Gulliver's Travels" is far better, primarily because if taken literally, it is an entertaining children's tale, but if examined critically and in context, pokes serious fun at the established powers of Swift's time. The dual nature of the piece is more readily grasped by young minds. After reading some excerpts from GT and analyzing them in class, students should be better prepared for attempting to write satire themselves.

But for heaven's sake, don't waste precious classroom time with gimmicky techno-distractions. TEACH!

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Samantha Vimes
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Actually, NewZero, I think The Daily Show/Stephen Colbert would be a great comparison. If you aren't sure about the technology, Stephen Colbert's "Truthiness" address to the Washington Press Corps can be found as a transcript online and could be printed out. Just as Swift advocated one thing to really say the opposite, Colbert praised the modern media to damn it, and it's a little easier for students who don't have the context on Swift to help them get it, and shows how a certain style continues to be relevant to creating discussions.

Also, you may be amused by a modern Jonathan Swift who runs his own blog. Yes, he's using Swift as a psuedonym and, sadly, many people don't realize his works are satire. Check the comments pages on his blog and you'll soon see why kids NEED your unit.

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Neffti Noel
We Three Blings


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quote:
Originally posted by SweetViolet:
Well, it's easy to see what's wrong with American education these days.

Forget the gimmicks and just teach. Give the kids some context for the essay, and a vocabulary list for unfamiliar words or phrases.

Have them read it aloud, one paragraph at a time, then deconstruct the paragraph by asking questions of the class... "Where do you think he's going with this?" "Do you think he is being serious?" Be sure you explain that racism was rife in that time and place, and that the Irish were considered a separate race from the English.

As far as having them write their own satire, I don't think "A Modest Proposal," by itself, is a sufficient example. "Gulliver's Travels" is far better, primarily because if taken literally, it is an entertaining children's tale, but if examined critically and in context, pokes serious fun at the established powers of Swift's time. The dual nature of the piece is more readily grasped by young minds. After reading some excerpts from GT and analyzing them in class, students should be better prepared for attempting to write satire themselves.

But for heaven's sake, don't waste precious classroom time with gimmicky techno-distractions. TEACH!

I think that was a pretty negative response to such an enthusiastic OP. I didn't see any gimmicks or distractions mentioned. Showing a DVD with examples of current satire must help to engage students and help them spot connections and themes across different media and different ages.
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Brad from Georgia
Ding Dong! Merrily on High Definition TV


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I'd see if a student would role-play Colbert, have him/her sit at the desk and do a Colbert-style defense of the Projecter's idea to ease the suffering of Ireland by eating the babies. When "A Modest Proposal" came out, it created a flurry of objections from people who didn't get the macabre joke; a Colbert Report would have pointed out that as things stand, the babies are dead anyway. . . .

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NinthSign
I'll Be Home for After Christmas Sales


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When I did a unit on humour in high school English my teacher got us to read the part of Monty Python and the Holy Grail with the coconuts and the argument about whether or not the bird could carry the coconut. She brought in two halves of a coconut and had people read parts and it was really fun. To be honest, it was the best class of the term because it got everyone engaged and excited to start the unit. Then, after the unit was finished we got into groups, wrote our own humour story and filmed it. On the last day of classes before winter break we watched them. It was one of the best units.

A good introduction can really set the tone for the unit, and I think your idea of using the Simpsons or the Daily show is really good.

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Jonny T
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Use of technology as an aid to teaching is neither a "gimmick", nor a distraction. Putting information across in a way that is entertaining and attention-keeping is a much better educational model than ejaculating historical jargon over the class.

One possibility would have them try to transfer the text to a modern context. Explaining the history behind it, what it meant and why, as well as the reactions to it may be useful (in particular people not "getting" it).

- Jonathan

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Jordashe
I'll Be Home for After Christmas Sales


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I heard that at my high school, they wound up having trouble with this segment - the kids couldn't understand that the proposal is not meant to be taken seriously.
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Nick Theodorakis
We Three Blings


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How about adding in some material from The Onion as an example of modern satire? Then, to address Jordashe's comments about students not realizing that Swift was writing satire, find some examples of people who didn't realize that an article in The Onion was satire (e.g., I've seen some people write letters to the editor thinking that an article about J.K. Rowling was serious). You can then compare modern satire to Swift's, explaining that Swift was The Onion of his day.

Nick

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Arpiby
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quote:
Originally posted by SweetViolet:
Forget the gimmicks and just teach. Give the kids some context for the essay, and a vocabulary list for unfamiliar words or phrases.

Have them read it aloud, one paragraph at a time, then deconstruct the paragraph by asking questions of the class... "Where do you think he's going with this?" "Do you think he is being serious?" Be sure you explain that racism was rife in that time and place, and that the Irish were considered a separate race from the English.

This was the dominant mode of teaching for most of my primary and secondary education. If that was education done "right", then by all means, let's do it wrong!

The warning about distractions is a relevant one, though. While videos can be a potent tool they're also kind of a pain to work into a lesson smoothly (especially if you're uncertain about the reliability of the technology at your disposal). If you use a video clip at all I would play it at the end of the lesson or unit to cap things off, rather than trying to rely on videos to introduce concepts. I would second the recommendation of instead using printed material from modern satirical productions; that way students can get a better feel for what they're dealing with before tackling Swift.

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Lainie
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Heh. When I was in college, I wrote an opinion piece for the student paper, inspired by A Modest Proposal and some of the Reagan-era safety net cuts, suggesting that poor people be killed.

Many, many people did not get the joke. That year, at our annual party, the staff of the paper presented me with the first annual I Hate Poor People Award.

By all means, make the link between what Swift was doing and what humorists today do. I especially like the suggestions from Brad and Jonny T. I agree that SweetViolet's response was unnecessarily negative and unhelpful.

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BeachLife
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Personally, I prefer the approach of having the kids read the story on their own with a class discussion to follow. Let the discussion go where it may with some redirection and good questions thrown in. I think it's the type of story that is thought provoking and a great example of satire. Having other visual aids is a great idea, but better as a back pocket thing should the discussion bog down. I think Colbart is far better at satire than the daily show. In the later years especially Stewart has been unable to keep his opinions from his work.

Please do not make the kids read the story outloud. It may be a way to make certain they read it, but for the most part it will be mind-numbingly boring. Especailly if some of the kids don't read so well.

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Lainie
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quote:
Originally posted by BeachLife:
Please do not make the kids read the story outloud. It may be a way to make certain they read it, but for the most part it will be mind-numbingly boring. Especailly if some of the kids don't read so well.

Agreed. Reading aloud is appropriate for works that were meant to be read aloud: plays, poems, speeches. Not essays.

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Simply Madeline
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quote:
Originally posted by BeachLife:
I think Colbart is far better at satire than the daily show. In the later years especially Stewart has been unable to keep his opinions from his work.

Isn't Colbert an example of parody, rather than satire?
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BlushingBride
We Wish You a Merry Giftmas


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I love the idea of using the Colbert report to introduce satire. Discussion would also be good. As would asking the kids to find examples of satire on their own to bring in and discuss.

We had a teacher in high school who loved assigning posters, and then hanging them in the classroom. ("Make a travel poster for Salem during the Salem Witch trials...") For some reason, A Modest Proposal was the only piece we did where she didn't ask for one. I was so disappointed... I was really looking forward to making a great big poster proclaiming "Try delicious BABY! An inexpensive source of low-fat, high protein, tender meat! The perfect home-cooked meal for the chef without much cash." with a big picture of a smiling baby in a chef's hat, sitting in a pot, giving a thumbs up. I even wanted to attach a handy recipe tear-off section for Crock-pot Baby Stew.

...Come to think of it, that might be why she didn't assign a poster for that unit.

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BeachLife
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quote:
Originally posted by Simply Madeline:
quote:
Originally posted by BeachLife:
I think Colbart is far better at satire than the daily show. In the later years especially Stewart has been unable to keep his opinions from his work.

Isn't Colbert an example of parody, rather than satire?
It's both. Parody can include satire.

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ChelleGame
We Wish You a Merry Giftmas


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quote:
Originally posted by Jonny T:
... is a much better educational model than ejaculating historical jargon over the class.

- Jonathan

::Oddly aroused::

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Michelle

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Mistletoey Chloe
Ding Dong! Merrily on High Definition TV


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Hi NZ,

As it happens, on Tuesday I am teaching "A Modest Proposal." These are the questions I plan to raise, edited a bit from my notes, numbers refer to pages in the Longman second edition.

Ireland in 1690 and the 1695 Penal Laws (handout or Powerpoint; I'll email them to you, as I still have your address, despite my everlasting shame in not getting back to you).

Q. What assumption must we make in order to identify with the narrator?

Q. What is Swift’s real agenda here? How do we know?

Q. What is he angry about? (humans reduced to economics). Economics at the expense of ethics (2468); humans as animals (2470).

Q. What, does he suggest, is like cannibalism? How? (2468).

Q. Who does he attack here? (2469). Who, if anyone, is (or are) really to blame for the state of Ireland?

Q. What does he claim to be resolving (2469-70). How would cannibalism benefit the people of Ireland? (2472).

Q. What are Swift’s real views on possible solutions?

Q. Do we have obligations?
(The late 18th century, via the economist Adam Smith, would develop a theory of laissez faire capitalism. The argument ran that people, if left to their own devices and unimpeded by governmental regulation, would conduct their economic activities as if guided by an unseen, invisible hand so as to maximize both their own and their society's economic well-being. This represented an ultimate faith in natural law and in each individual's relation to the natural order. Practically, a policy of laissez faire meant extreme individualism in economic and political affairs, and a "hands-off" attitude on the part of government. "Free trade," "free enterprise," "rugged individualism," and "free competition", are all phrases that represent laissez hire in action, particularly in the English-speaking world of the 19th century. The freedom so frequently referred to is freedom from all but the minimum amount of governmental intervention.)

Q. Why has Swift chosen to write in satire? Any examples of contemporary satire?

Satire:
Dryden: "The goal of Satire is the amendment of vices."
Johnson: satire is “a poem in which wickedness or folly is censured.”
Swift: “satire is a sort of glass wherein beholders do eternally discover everybody’s face but their own.”

He saw the surge in confidence: wealth, colonization, trade, science, capitalism, faith in progress as distracting from humanity’s real concern: virtue and the virtuous life. The bitterness of his satire is fuelled by the sense that he is fighting a losing battle.

His portrayal of Houyhnhnms and Yahoos in GT: accused of misanthropy.

Swift on humans: “Principally I hate and detest that animal called man, although I heartily love John, Peter, Thomas, and so forth.” Personally a great philanthropist.

Anger at the difference between what men are and what they could be. Saw the Yahoos as being inevitably in charge.

How do you see this operating in “On A Beautiful Young Nymph Going to Bed?” (Worth giving your class as a handout or an PP slide). “The Lady’s Dressing Room?” What in particular does he satirize? Is he sexist?

Ooh, almost forgot: it's also worth having the class look at an excerpt from Wm. Petty's _Political Arithmetic_ 1691, which is in the Longman too, and was an economist who suggested that ireland could be turned into a farm to supply England if only enough Irish were removed, viz:

Postscript.

If in this jealous Age this Essay should be taxed of an Evil Design to Wast and Dispeople Ireland, We say that the Author of it intends not to be Felo de se, and propound something quite contrary, by Saying it is naturally possible in about 25 Years to double the Inhabitants of Great Britain and Ireland and make the People full as many as the Territory of those Kingdoms can with tolerable Labor afford a competent Livelihood unto: Which I prove thus, (vizt)
1. The sixth Part of the People are teeming Women of between 18 and 44 Years old.
2. It is found by Observation That but 1/3 Part or between 30 and 40 of the teeming Women are Marryed.
3. That a Teeming Woman, at a Medium, bear a child every two Years and a half.
4. That in Mankind at London, there are 14 Males for 13 Females, and because Males are prolific 40 Years, and Females but 25, there are in Effect 560 Males for 325 Females.
5. That out of the Mass of Mankind there dyes one out of 30 per Annum.
6. That at Paris, where the Christnings and the Births are the same in Number, the Christnings are above 18000 per Annum, and consequently the Births at London, which far exceed the Christnings there, cannot be less than 19000 where the Burials are above 23000.

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KatrinaDuck
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I can't add much except to applaud the ideas of others and to cheer on NewZer0. I wish my classes on satire had been that engaging... in one, we read the paper aloud and discussed it. I'd already read and understood it at this point, but even those who hadn't already gone through it found it mind-numbingly boring.
My other teacher had us watch certain skits from SNL, but didn't explain WHY they were satirical (of course, to kids who don't understand satire, this isn't helpful). It was a good class and we all enjoyed it, but I didn't learn much.

Please let us know how it goes. [Smile]

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It is, after all, the dab of grit that seeps into an oyster's shell that makes the pearl, not pearl-making seminars with other oysters. -Stephen King

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snapdragonfly
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I also cheer NZ on for this!

We studied AMP in literature in high school - I don't remember anyone being so dense as to not be able to understand this guy was being, basically, sarcastic, to make a point - if they didn't get it on their own, they certainly grasped it after our teacher discussed it with us.

~ excellent class discussions led by a skillful teacher are key. I think showing clips of Colbert would be good - it will engage the kids and show them that social commentary and wicked sharp humor to expose humanities problems are something that's been around a long time, and is still around, and is a very effective tool.

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"Wolves, dragons and vampires, man. Draw the nut-bars like big ol' nut-bar magnets." ~evilrabbit

(snurched because one of my nutbar family members is all about wolves and another one is all about dragons...)(with apologies to surfcitydogdad)

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NewZer0
Happy Holly Days


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Greetings everyone!

Thanks for the cheers and suggestions (Chloe, those questions you posted will be especially helpful!).

I don't know why I didn't think of the Onion, I've only been reading it every week for the past 8 years.

I'll see about printing out some of Colbert's comments and some Onion headlines, and then, if the technology works, I'll show some clips online (and probably some Futurama, since I love it so).

And don't worry, I won't make them read out loud. The few times we've done that it's gone. . .badly.

Thank you, thank you so much again!

--NewZer0

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I study medieval literature because that's where the money is.

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KatrinaDuck
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quote:
Originally posted by redsnapperdragonfly:
We studied AMP in literature in high school - I don't remember anyone being so dense as to not be able to understand this guy was being, basically, sarcastic, to make a point - if they didn't get it on their own, they certainly grasped it after our teacher discussed it with us.

You'd be surprised how dense people can be.
There was a contest to make an anti-smoking poster at my school when I was a junior in HS, and I made one with a llama in a leather jacket (Joe Llama), saying all the good reasons to smoke: "It makes your breath smell llama fresh!", and "Your teeth will turn a lovely llama yellow that tells everyone that you're a llama smoker."

One of my classmates came up to me and said, "but that's a PRO-smoking poster!" I tried to explain it, but... it didn't work. I couldn't get his head around what I was trying to do.

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It is, after all, the dab of grit that seeps into an oyster's shell that makes the pearl, not pearl-making seminars with other oysters. -Stephen King

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snapdragonfly
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quote:
Originally posted by KatrinaDuck:
quote:
Originally posted by redsnapperdragonfly:
We studied AMP in literature in high school - I don't remember anyone being so dense as to not be able to understand this guy was being, basically, sarcastic, to make a point - if they didn't get it on their own, they certainly grasped it after our teacher discussed it with us.

You'd be surprised how dense people can be.
There was a contest to make an anti-smoking poster at my school when I was a junior in HS, and I made one with a llama in a leather jacket (Joe Llama), saying all the good reasons to smoke: "It makes your breath smell llama fresh!", and "Your teeth will turn a lovely llama yellow that tells everyone that you're a llama smoker."

One of my classmates came up to me and said, "but that's a PRO-smoking poster!" I tried to explain it, but... it didn't work. I couldn't get his head around what I was trying to do.

Man.

Coming from a family that included cousins who jeered and satirized every tv show and commerical starting as soon as they could talk, I can't imagine not understanding sarcasm/satire/parody.

Just tell them it's "opposite talk." Like on opposite day. EVERYONE knows opposite day. ~ which means NOBODY knows opposite day!! oh no!! I'm stuck in opposite world! Don't help me!

--------------------
"Wolves, dragons and vampires, man. Draw the nut-bars like big ol' nut-bar magnets." ~evilrabbit

(snurched because one of my nutbar family members is all about wolves and another one is all about dragons...)(with apologies to surfcitydogdad)

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KatrinaDuck
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It was several years ago. But I'm sure if I went back to that town I could find him sweeping the floors at the local McDonalds.

I didn't really think it was possible either, until that day. And then I realized something shocking: there are just some people, no matter how good the education system is, no matter how supportive the family, no matter how many opportunities presented themselves, that will remain idiots.

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It is, after all, the dab of grit that seeps into an oyster's shell that makes the pearl, not pearl-making seminars with other oysters. -Stephen King

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Mickey is a Hanukkah Bush
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quote:
Originally posted by KatrinaDuck:
And then I realized something shocking: there are just some people, no matter how good the education system is, no matter how supportive the family, no matter how many opportunities presented themselves, that will remain idiots.

Katrina, can I use that as a sig line?

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Lainie
Ding Dong! Merrily on High Definition TV


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There are people whose brains simply aren't wired to understand things like parody, sarcasm, irony, etc. It isn't necessarily because they're stupid.

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How homophobic do you have to be to have penguin gaydar? - Lewis Black

Posts: 8322 | From: Columbus, OH | Registered: Aug 2005  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a moderator
KatrinaDuck
Jingle Bell Hock


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Mickey, I'd be honored. [Smile]

Lainie, I know that some people have a hard time understanding some things and can be very intelligent. I was a writing tutor for a class that was required for graduation, and I worked with many students who were brilliant in math and science and just had difficulty with English and writing.
That said, I find it hard to believe that someone even moderately intelligent who, given the opportunities of a good education and personal attention to help grasp a concept, would have so much trouble with it as to confuse the concepts so thoroughly.

From other experience in dealing with this particular person, though, I know he wasn't the brightest crayon in the box.

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It is, after all, the dab of grit that seeps into an oyster's shell that makes the pearl, not pearl-making seminars with other oysters. -Stephen King

Posts: 481 | From: North Brunswick, NJ | Registered: Sep 2005  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a moderator
NewZer0
Happy Holly Days


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Yesterday was the big day!

So, first I asked them what it was about -- clearly some people got the satire and some didn't. So we discussed the definition of satire, I asked them for modern examples, then we talked about the historical context of the piece. I read them some pieces from the Onion and talked about *why* that was satire. I asked them some discussion questions Chloe sent me (thanks, Chloe!). I let them talk for awhile -- they were pretty chatty.

Then I showed them some Futurama -- the first season episode, "A Head in the Polls" where Nixon becomes president. Not only does it have some nice political satire, it has a "Twilight Zone" parody, so we were able to discuss the differences between the two.

Thanks again to everyone! Y'all were super helpful and I think this was one of the better classes of the term.

--NewZer0

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I study medieval literature because that's where the money is.

Posts: 1431 | From: Corvallis, OR | Registered: Jun 2004  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a moderator
   

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