Dreaming (in) 21st Century America

What is the biggest dream you could ever imagine for your life? Who is the biggest person you could ever imagine yourself becoming? What are the things holding you back from getting there, and how are you going to get there anyway?

Hunter S. Thompson drove a car full of drugs + guns through Nevada looking for "THE AMERICAN DREAM" in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Jay Gatz gave himself a whole new name looking for it in The Great Gatsby, and so did Chino in Bodega Dreams. But I’m not spoiling the class too much to tell you all three of these guys didn’t necessarily get what they were dreaming of. So how can we complexify the idea(l) of the American Dream? Let’s first ask: What is a(n American) dream, anyway? Drugs + guns, money + power, green grass + a picket fence? Why +how do you dream differently when you’re sleeping in a different bed?

And what about Lennie + George making plans to buy their own farm in Of Mice and Men, when we already know from the Robert Burns poem the title is alluding to that “the best laid schemes of mice and men often go awry”? Who doesn’t have access to the Dream, and how + why is their dream deferred? We’ll be reading from these people, as well as looking for their point of view in the books they’re least represented, and even repressed in.

And if we’re looking for the varying voices of eclectic America, let’s look in varying genres. How ‘bout Lorraine Ashberry’s “Raisin in the Sun,” and other plays. We’ll be learning about the Dream from these, but we’ll also be reading them to learn how to write our own. Isn’t America, we’ve been told, about raising your own voice? We’ll study strong characters in Little Miss Sunshine, and strong dialogue in The Simpsons, and then we’ll make better characters and better dialogue in the plays + movies we create, film and unleash on the world.

Walt Whitman heard America singing, but Nas sang it on his latest album. We’ll not only figure out what these guys are telling us about the decay and the ever-rejuvenating dream of America, but how. How does Eminem’s internal rhyming, his infernal timing, make us hear the words, make them more clearly heard? You better start listening + learning so you’re ready for the spoken word and rap album our class will be recording (with very low production quality, with zero production costs, but with guerilla internet marketing and distribution—this is real indie music (American music?)).

And maybe, if we’re really looking for America’s varying voices, if we’re really trying to stop dreaming and be r-e-a-l, then we should start listening to the voices of actual Amerians. We’ll take a look, first, at all the voices we see on TV and in the newspapers. Who are these people anyway, and what do they keep cramming down our throats? We’ll think some critical thoughts about what this world is coming to, just like our grandpas do, and we’ll turn some critical eyes to our newspapers as they approach this year’s Big Dream, the Big Election, the day the voices of America sing collectively their new dream for their country. Or, rather, the day they see who can shout the loudest. Where’s the truth in these newspapers, in all this talk of flip-floppery and political celebrity? non -fictional. And if we’ve already asked what a(n American) dream is to ourselves and to the characters in some books, it’s definitely time to ask what it is to this country in the 21st Century.

And when we’re ready to unplug the TV and burn the New York Post + Times, we’ll listen to the voices of Americans we never hear from. New Orleaners after Hurricane Katrina, Tompkins Square Park’s homeless, undocumented immigrants + Americans currently incarcerated. I’ve got books with these people’s stories in their own words, along with their photos + drawings. The internet has audio of their stories so we can really h e a r them. And as we learn from them what it’s like to be on the fringe, to simultaneously be denied and realize the Dream, we’ll also be learning how to create our own oral history project of someone we know, someone who’s got a story to tell. That guy who makes chicken wraps on Bowery and 2nd, the guy who hands out flyers for University Copy, my grandmother who can’t drive her car anymore. How can we use interviews, stories, photos, video, audio, to tell their stories for them?

America is power-to-the-people, right? You ever seen those books for sale only through the guys with tables on Sixth Ave? Street fiction? You ever seen those ‘zines on sale for a quarter in those smaller-than-Barnes-and-Noble bookstores? The ones that are filled with people’s thoughts, drawings + photos, printed at Kinko’s and stapled together by some normal kid just like you? This class will involve a lot of do-it-yourself publication. Plan to have your work available in the classroom library, and at St. Mark’s Bookstore, and at Bluestockings Books. A few small publications of different sorts throughout the schoolyear, and at the end of the spring, your big end-of-the-year-project to work towards, your own ‘zine for the world to see—unedited, uncensored, untranslated, unstoppable—your voice to shout in a country where voices can shout, your Dream.

We’re studying the complexities of this dream to be something we are not yet. And, as young people soon to finish high school and make one of the first huge decisions of your life—what. next.—I would argue this is a good time to do some dreaming. So what’s it going to be then, eh? What are we going to do tonight, Brain? What are the biggest dreams you could ever imagine for your life? Who is the biggest person you could ever imagine yourself becoming? What are the things holding you back from getting there, and how are you going to get there anyway?

Significant Assignments: 

-Literary Analysis Paper (Of Mice and Men)
-Literary Theory Paper (use at least two "lenses") (Lit Circles including Bodega Dreams, Invisible Man, Malcolm X, Great Gatsby, When I Was Puerto Rican, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings)
-10-Minute Play (various ten minute plays)
-Poetry Portfolio including creative, analytical, and personal responses (various poems, focus on Whitman and Ginsberg)
-Feature Article Profile of someone (various readings, including Partner Reading books)

Sample PBATs: 
How do John Steinbeck and Ernesto Quinonez use literary elements to show how a dream can be deferred?
How do Stephen Chbosky and Ayn Rand use characterization and conflict to show how one can realize their true self?
How do John Steinbeck and Ralph Ellison use literary elements to explore the effects of marginalization on a person's identity?