‘Confessions’ good for the learning
Lee Pulaski, email@example.com
More than a dozen students at Bonduel High School are taking a bigger bite out of the education apple by reading and discussing an author who was born more than three centuries ago.
The students are reading “Confessions” by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, a French writer, composer and philosopher. The book is part of the Great World Texts program facilitated by the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Center for the Humanities.
This year is Bonduel’s second year in the program. Bonduel is the only Shawano County school district and one of only 35 in the state participating in Great World Texts, which provides more rigor and culture than typical high school English courses.
To show what they’ve learned, the students put together projects representing one or more aspects of what Rousseau discussed in his autobiography. They will travel Wednesday morning to UW-Madison to present their work and meet with other students participating in the program.
“They each got to create their own project based on their own interpretation of the novel,” said Hannah Fritsch, the Great World Texts teacher at BHS. “One student is making French cuisine and doing some kind of dish representing the culture of the book and then relating it to the symbolism of a character. Some of the guys who are really good in the tech ed classes are doing engravings and working with machinery.”
Race McClone created a project using a computer numerical control machine to engrave an unfinished city gate on a piece of wood. McClone said he left it unfinished intentionally as a symbol of Rousseau’s own aborted apprenticeship as an engraver.
“When he was in his apprenticeship, he got locked out of the city, and he decided to leave his apprenticeship and run away because he wasn’t being treated to well,” McClone said. “He decided not to finish.”
Kayla Beyersdorf used pages from older and worn out books to create a symbol of shame, one of many subjects addressed by Rousseau in his autobiography. She explained that she used the books to create a three-dimensional representation because Rousseau, whenever he experienced a crisis, turned to books.
“When his mother died, he started reading with his father, but he was also shameful. There was just a recurrence,” Beyersdorf said.
Fritsch said her personal niche is global integration, and she feels like preparing students for the real world requires giving them a diverse background. Great World Texts helps to provide a unique avenue of exploration, she said.
“I feel like sometimes, when you get into small, rural communities where ethnic and racial diversity is limited, students can get that (cultural) access through such programs by engaging in literacy and being part of programs that have more of a world view,” Fritsch said. “It builds their character along with meeting the standards of helping their reading and writing.”
In the course of studying Rousseau’s writings, the students discovered how relatable the author was to them, even though the text is centuries old. Among the themes are finding your own identity, fitting in with family dynamics and finding out who you are through relationships with others, among other things, Fritsch said.
“Texts that they would never pick up on their own, they’re being asked to read,” Fritsch said. “The first thing that they learned is how approachable a text can be, even when it’s written in another language and translated.”
For McClone, reading Rousseau’s work helps him to improve his own writing, he said, and it gives him a taste of college-level work.
“Some of the phrasing (in “Confessions”) is a little confusing. Since it is an older text, it’s not always the way we write in modern times,” McClone said.
Teachers participated in a two-day workshop before the class began. Fritsch said she learned strategies on how to openly engage the students who might have difficulty understanding Rousseau’s 17th-century writing style.
“We have a free space where they can explain what confuses them,” Fritsch said. “In the first five to 10 minutes of class, we do a different kind of vocabulary game with the words from the book. That helps them digest it more.”
Almost all of the reading is done outside of class, which gives students a chance to talk about what they read the next day at class.
“It really is beneficial so that, if they do have questions, then they can bring them, and we can discuss them in class,” Fritsch said.
Beyersdorf said she enjoyed the Great World Texts program because it exposed her to a book that she wouldn’t ordinarily pick up on her own. She said Tuesday that she was eager to present her project to a larger audience in Madison.