One Flew West

In a stack of papers called Instruction.

  • Nov
  • 16
  • 2006

I’m getting ready to teach One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, experiencing a visit from nervousness while I plan. I usually have materials prepared ahead of time, have an idea of the final product I hope for students to create, know the larger ideas of the work. I have ideas of where we’ll go, but my days are largely dictated by the directions our class discussions take. Since I haven’t taught this book before, this is new territory for me.

Just Finished It

Ken Kesey's greatest novel, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's NestI only finished reading Kesey’s book for the first time about 2 months ago. That’s right, ladies and gentlemen, though I’d seen the movie many times, I finally got around to actually reading the book this summer. While reading, shocked that our puritanical district would ever allow such literature to be the subject of entire class discussion, I saw lots of places to have good conversation. This is the type of novel we should assign more often. There’s a grittiness there missing from almost all of the other literature taught in the average high school classroom. Many connections to A Clockwork Orange, Lord of the Flies, On The Road, The Professor and the Madman, and several other works popped out. But how far do I want to push the boundaries? Doesn’t the best teaching come from challenging their thinking?

Not An Expert

My expertise on this specific novel is limited so I’m not quite sure where my focus should be (I think it’ll be on Bromden’s journey to sanity). Add that to the fact that we have no published teacher’s guide for the novel, I’m feeling rather adrift. Floating out in the middle of the ocean in an inflatable raft, no sign of any other sailors, caught in thick fog, bouncing on choppy water, but free to change course as necessary… that’s an interesting place to be.

Welcome To Your Life

I’ve decided to embrace that feeling, though, because I quite often love that about teaching: we are free to make our own decisions within given perimeters. There are standards I need to address; there are writing styles I need to teach; certain literary terms need to be the focus of analysis. I have a set of questions from another teacher at my school and those have helped me focus. I’ve also grabbed ideas from some Web sites and I’m sure everything will work out just fine. But I get to make those decisions without anyone breathing down my neck about how best to teach whatever I teach. There’s great freedom and responsibility in that.

More importantly, though, that’s where most of my students are and where most of your students are, too. To go through the experience with them, even if a bit ahead, should make for a different way to approach the novel.

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