When we think of the American West, we often envision a cowboy saving the day and riding off into the sunset. Nostalgia often sets in, and we begin to wish for simpler times when the good guys and the bad guys were distinguishable, when everything was so simple. Unfortunately, those times never existed; what remains in our minds is the romanticized version of the American West Hollywood glorified. For those of us who learned only this American myth, it is hard to realize that we've been lied to. My unit will help uncover this myth of the West. I will explore the history of this myth, when we invented it, why we invented it, and why it lasted all these years. I will then reinvent the narrative of the West using literature, art, and film. I will delve into the "New Western History," as the true historical West is called.
This new history will involve looking at the reasons for migration west and looking at and reading the narratives of natives, including Native Americans and Mestizos. Hollywood has created this image in the American consciousness of the cowboy as the hero and the "Indian" as the enemy. Even after all we know of history, most people still hold this version of the West sacred. There are so many stories left untold. Actually, there is a scholarly endeavor happening all around the country to uncover the truth. It is this movement to uncover the truth and debunk the myth of the West that I wish to explore with my students.
I teach in New Haven in a magnet school called the Sound School. My school is unique in the fact that is a comprehensive aquaculture school. Sound School students study the water, build boats, fish, and sail. The core classes are also taught, and they are done in a more traditional way. I will teach this unit to my English 3 and AP English classes. My class is made up of a diverse group of students. My students are from New Haven and over 18 surrounding school districts. The diversity isn't simply ethnic or racial, but monetary also. I have students who are white, African American, Latino, and a mix of all three and more. Some of my students come from poverty-stricken families, while others are quite wealthy. My school has a student body of 260, and this diversity is a source of enrichment, rather than a source of problems. I also encounter some of the same problems as inner-city schools including low reading and writing skills. But from experience, I've learned that these units get the students excited. Exploring something in-depth also enhances their analytical and critical thinking skills.
I don't simply want the students to know how to analyze literature and art; I want them to walk away with skills that they can use in life. I teach them to become healthy, productive citizens, and the medium I use is literature, art, and film. While students are studying the various art forms, they will be exploring their own lives as well. I take every opportunity to make the material relevant to their lives, because this not only increases their involvement; it also helps them to fully understand the material and its importance. Further, we need to make sure that our students leave our classes and our schools with the skills they need for work and for life. We can give them these skills no matter what we teach. It is also important to explore the fact that their own identity comes from their history and the history of their people. That said, students need to understand the multicultural aspects of our society. I also find that white students need to think of themselves as just another group or other.