In 1998, my first year of teaching, I was in graduate school at the University of Vermont and I had two sections of Freshman composition. The only requirement was that we teach Into the Wild, the common book all incoming students had read. The book appealed to me because I loved transcendentalism, and I had, only 5 years earlier, attempted to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail (and only got 3 weeks in, but that’s another story). I was big on self-reliance, road trips, and non-conformity.
Next year, I’ll be teaching College Prep English 11, which is American literature, and has Into the Wild as one of the texts we can offer as a full class read. So, I’m re-reading this book as a mid-career teacher and twenty years after my own attempted walk into the woods. I’m finding, as Heraclitus says, “you can never step into the same river twice,” is equally true about any text. The first time I read the book, I identified strongly with McCandless (except, of course, when he burns his money, because anyone who’s struggled with finances would never do that). Now, I find myself less annoyed at the authorial interrupts of Krakauer, and more interested in all the adults who tried to parent, advise, and nurture Chris–because I identify with all those folks as I read this text now.
A big perk about Into the Wild involves the genre–non-fiction. I know we’ve been trying to include more non-fiction in our curriculum so we can talk about audience/purpose/ authorial intent. By starting my year out with this, we can look at the original Outside article and follow-up articles and consider how this story has become a part of American mythos.
One of the exciting things about re-reading this book and planning curriculum is all the opportunities it provides for my students in terms of engaging content across the curriculum. Here are some elements that excite me in terms of what we could do:
- A map of all the places he travels–maybe a bulletin board that has a pin for each area and a quote from the book?
- Trying to figure out the finances of a cross-country trip–how much for gas, how much for housing, how much for food?
- Creating an info-graphic for some of the places, concepts, ideas in the book. More and more, I want my students to know how to deconstruct visuals and also how to create their own.
- Making a meme about the book using popular visual memes.
- Listing all the references to authors and philosophers. Tolstoy, Melville, Dillard, London…so many allusions and quotations to show how literature speaks inter-textually.
- Incorporating the ideas of Transcendentalism with Chris’s trip. I’m thinking maybe an in-class essay about how he embodies the ideas of self-reliance, simplicity, non-conformity, and authenticity.
Any ideas from people who have taught this book before? I’d love to hear what you’ve done for teaching this book!
Posted by Kate, VP Secondary