Monday, April 2, 2018

Use our new book to support discussions of timely Gatsby connections

We are thrilled that our volume Using Informational Text to Teach The Great Gatsby is now available from Rowman & Littlefield, especially in a week when the Trump administration’s plan to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census reminds us how poignantly relevant Fitzgerald’s novel is to the present-day.

In our Using Informational Text to Teach Literature series, we have worked to provide teachers with classroom-ready resources to undertake the necessary, sometimes difficult discussions with students about classic texts like GatsbyTo Kill a Mockingbird, and A Raisin in the Sun.

Discussions of the American Dream feel more relevant than ever today; so too are questions about inequality and socioeconomic mobility. Gatsby remains an important and fascinating literary exercise full of opportunities for students to analyze and evaluate literary devices, structure, and symbolism. The presence of white nationalist, anti-immigrant, racist, and anti-Semitic sentiment in Gatsby, however, calls out for discussion in relation to our contemporary social and political discourse.

Teaching Gatsby now or shortly? Consider connecting your discussion with the debate over the addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 Census and the decision in January not to include “Hispanic” and “Middle Eastern/North African” in the list of races, which, as Alex Wagner argues in the New York Times, likely would have significantly reduced the number of respondents who identified themselves as white.

Who counts as white and the future of white civilization is a recurring question in Gatsby. Tom Buchanan worries that “civilization’s going to pieces.” His references to The Rise of the Colored Empires by “Goddard” is an allusion to the real-life Lothrop Stoddard’s 1920 book, The Rising Tide of Color Against White World-Supremacy. In our volume on Gatsby, we include a disturbing and fascinating excerpt from Stoddard along with material by Kenneth L. Roberts that appeared in the Saturday Evening Post, a publication read by Jordan to Tom during the novel. Confronting these white nationalist texts in relation to Fitzgerald’s novel can help students critically engage both their meaning within Gatsby and also their continuities with some of the white nationalist rhetoric in the present day.

Though we as teachers may feel inclined to shy away from discussions of such thorny issues, we have a duty to support our students in learning how to engage thoughtfully the issues that shape the world they are about to step into as adults. Our students are ready and capable. Think, for example, of the students from Parkland, Florida, who have so effectively taken on the gun control debate in part because they were taught to think critically and make persuasive arguments in their school’s debate program.

We all deeply hope our students will never have to endure and be motivated by such a terrible experience, but issues like gun violence and immigration policy already affect their lives on a daily basis, so we must equip them as best we can to think, read, write, and speak about them. We hope our resources may be helpful to you in doing so.

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