Why High School Teachers Don’t Understand American Literature

Looking back through different documents from American literature, you would think that your teacher covered everything that you needed to know. You talk about Jamestown and Columbus, then you jump to the Declaration of Independence, Bill of Rights, Emancipation Proclamation, then to Emerson and Thorough, Poe and Twain, and at the end, an easy final. Simple as that. In my high school I didn’t even take British Literature. To this day, I don’t know a whole hell of a lot about Shakespeare. Like nothing. But that isn’t the point. My teacher really didn’t teach me American Literature, even though he taught me all about the list above.

See, my teacher followed the curriculum. He taught us how America came to be. In reality, without any of the big documents, or without the early literature of the comings to America, we wouldn’t have what we do today. And for that, I respect him. What I disagree with is everything else that was written during this period. He, like many other teachers, only pushed the most important, most well-known pieces of literature of their times. I really didn’t realize it until I did a little research.

Looking at a poem from the 1860’s, I saw something that I had never seen before. I saw a new feeling, if you will. The writer of “the Picket Guard,” Ethel Lynn Beers, wrote about what everyone was thinking during the Civil War, in that all lives matter. Every journalist during that period wrote about the big stuff. Gettysburg, Bull Run, Antietam… That’s what you hear about. You see big death tolls, huge victories, and mighty generals, but you don’t hear about what the regular class is thinking about. The lone picket guard, fearing for his life out in the woods. Wondering about his family, and wondering why he’s fighting in the first place. She says, “And he thinks of the two in the low trundle-bed, /far away in the cot on the mountain./His musket falls slack; his face, dark and grim,/Grows gentle with memories tender,/As he mutters a prayer for the children asleep,/For their mother,—may Heaven defend her!” The soldier is thinking of his family. Like many, many other soldiers, it seems as though this one is young, but old enough to have a family.

Beers continues on, saying “The moon seems to shine just as brightly as then,/That night when the love yet unspoken/Leaped up to his lips—when low, murmured vows/Were pledged to be ever unbroken;/Then drawing his sleeve roughly over his eyes,/He dashes off tears that are welling,/And gathers his gun closer up to its place,/As if to keep down the heart-swelling.” This is the type of literature that you don’t see in the history books. You don’t fully understand how these people felt until you read something like this.

I don’t speak for all high school teachers, but I know how mine was. I’ve talked with people, and I know how theirs is, too. They never learned about what people felt during these tough times, and to me, that’s what American Literature is all about.

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Notes on the State of a Racist

I’m happy that American Literature is something that I’m starting to become more fond of. It’s not that I just can’t wait of getting my hands on native texts, religious sermons, or Anne Bradstreet’s anti-feminist feminism, but more or less the picking apart of what I was taught growing up. Thanksgiving is ruined. Columbus day is ruined (not that anyone really celebrates it anyways).  Yes, Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492, but he also killed a shitload of people once he got to “India.” It also turns out that when we played cowboys-and-indians every Friday in elementary gym class, it was super racist. Lastly, the fact that the Salem Witch Trials weren’t really in Salem, Massachusetts made me realize that a lot of what I was taught was wrong. But that’s not even what I want to talk about.

Growing up, you always were taught about how great our founding fathers were. Ben Franklin got struck by lightning, George Washington stood on the front of a boat that one time, and Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence. He was also a super racist, which isn’t really cool. If you’ve ever read the “Notes on the State of Virginia,” you’d know. I never read it in high school, so I didn’t know.

Ol’ Tommy Boy really set me back, all right. This piece of American literature features twenty-three ‘queries,’ or sections, all talking about different aspects of Virginia. From the boundaries of Virginia to its Constitution, Jefferson brings out his true pompous colors in his work. Although tough to decipher at points, Jefferson really gives it to the African race in Query XIV, entitled ‘Laws;’ “..their own judgment in favour of the whites, declared by their preference of them, as uniformly as is the preference of the Oranootan for the black women over those of his own species. The circumstance of superior beauty, is thought worthy attention in the propagation of our horses, dogs, and other domestic animals; why not in that of man?” (OpenAmLit). So basically he tells us that Clydesdales  haul heavy loads, German Shepards are the best at hunting, and the white race is superior. Fair enough, Tom. What’s your argument? “They have less hair on the face and body. They secrete less by the kidnies, and more by the glands of the skin, which gives them a very strong and disagreeable odour. This greater degree of transpiration renders them more tolerant of heat, and less so of cold, than the whites… A black, after hard labour through the day, will be induced by the slightest amusements to sit up till midnight, or later, though knowing he must be out with the first dawn of the morning. They are at least as brave, and more adventuresome. But this may perhaps proceed from a want of forethought, which prevents their seeing a danger till it be present. When present, they do not go through it with more coolness or steadiness than the whites. They are more ardent after their female: but love seems with them to be more an eager desire, than a tender delicate mixture of sentiment and sensation. Their griefs are transient…” (OpenAmLit). And so-on. He continues this for another half hour or so before referring to Homer as also being a racist 2600 years before him.

So what am I getting at? I mean, sure. A guy who grew up in a time like this is more than bound to be a racist at least to some degree. But not only did he openly write all of this in a section of his work literally called ‘laws,’ but he also wrote one of this nation’s backbone pieces in the Declaration of Independence. We are taught growing up to respect people like this in the same high school classes that teach us about how awful James Earl Ray was, when in reality they didn’t think a whole lot differently when it came to racial disputes. This is just scratching the surface. To continue to look into people like Jefferson, you won’t just find racial disputes, but disputes amongst women’s rights as well.

As for Jefferson, one would think that he’s the type of guy that would never have a relationship with a black woman. I didn’t fully get the humor in this video until just now. Ancestry.com Ad

Even the Wife? 50 Shades of God, pt. 2

So, if you’ve read my first post about Jonathan Edwards (if you haven’t, you should) it should come as no coincidence that Sarah Pierrepont Edwards was kind of the same freak as her hubby. If you haven’t, then it’s time you found out.

First of all, when I think of super devout religious couples, I only have one thing flowing through my head, and that’s sex. I might have a problem, but it’s true. For example: I work at a coffee shop in my hometown during the summer, and I know this couple of Jehovah Witnesses (JW Religion) that were really in love with each other. So in love that they got married not even a year after they had known each other. Now, being in a relationship for twice that long still doesn’t make me want to get married. Not even a little. Why do you think they got married? Probably to have sex, is my guess, The JW religion, like Christianity, makes it so you can’t be intimate with your significant other until you tie the knot. In fully believing that, it’s safe to assume that these two are super sexual with their religions and it comes out with their writing.

So, we know that Johnny Edwards enjoyed his alone time with God. Why I didn’t bother to find out if his wife thought the same way is unbelievable on my part. However, Sarah Pierrepont is nothing short of a fun, flirty read about God. “Thursday night, Jan. 28, was the sweetest night I ever had in my life” (OpenAmLit). Oh, so she found Jonathan, right? “I never before, for so long a time together, enjoyed so much of the light, and rest and sweetness of heaven in my soul, but without the least agitation of body during the whole time.” Never mind. Yes, I know, the title of the piece is about conversion, but I really was hoping for something more. Anyways…

This narrative is a little bit harder to decipher in terms of sexuality, only because Pierrepont writes almost in a Romantic way. It’s easy to see in her writing, but it might be a little harder to figure out if she was into Christ like her husband was. She says that “I never before, for so long a time together, enjoyed so much of the light, and rest and sweetness of heaven in my soul, but without the least agitation of body during the whole time… So far as I am capable of making a comparison, I think that what I felt each minute, during the continuance of the whole time, was worth more than all the outward comfort and pleasure, which I had enjoyed in my whole life put together” (OpenAmLit). It really is a type of writing that almost convinces you that Pierrepont is ‘in love’ with Christ himself. It also mentions that she had never felt more comfort and pleasure than she did while converting to Christianity. I really think she does a good job masking her intimacy until she says something else. ” It was pleasure, without the least sting, or any interruption. It was a sweetness, which my soul was lost in. It seemed to be all that my feeble frame could sustain, of that fullness of joy…” Annnnd we are back, folks. Getting it, sensually, from the big man himself. ‘My feeble frame?’

So not even Jonathan could pleasure, basically.