How to follow The Crucible?

by Mr. Sheehy

I find myself struggling with a good way to follow The Crucible, which we’ve just finished watching in one of my English 11 classes. I should start with a confession: I didn’t have them read it. They’re supposed to read it, but I didn’t have a chance to get to it last year and it looked like I wouldn’t get that far this year either; so when I had a pile of paperwork reaching for the ceiling, I thought I’d buy myself some time and expose my students to an important storyline for American history. It seemed so simple, but then as I watched the film with them, I got so wrapped up in it that I don’t want to put it down and move on to the next thing before discussing it further.

But my interest is where the danger lies. I am a bit excited to share my thinking about this story with them (yes, it may be silly to get excited about something like this, but that is why I am the teacher), and my excitement makes me want to blurt out every observation I made along the way . . . but what good does that do them? Or anyone, in any situation? If I were to have watched this film with my buddies in college, we would have sat around talking about it afterwards, and we all would have talked. It would not have been a case of me blurting out everything and their listening attentively. We would have interacted and traded observations, and I would have sought their thinking.

It is like that with students, but with added factors. One is social. Students will not be so quick to assert themselves in a conversation where I am taking part. I am an authority figure, and I could quash discussion if I talk too much. Plus, they might be tempted to defer to my opinion or at least assume a “whatever you say” perspective. Another factor concerns learning. If I tell students what I noticed, they may learn something about this movie, but they may not learn much about watching movies or interacting with story. They’d learn information, not skills.

So I must restrain myself, that much I can do; but I also must help them to build the understanding themselves – so they can drive to the party when I am not there to chauffeur them. Easy to say, not so easy to do.

I asked them immediately following the movie what it was about, and I was not looking for plot details, but instead themes, ideas, emotions, and reactions. I wanted them to connect a movie about Puritans-gone-awry to their own 21st Century instant messaging lives. HOW??? I have 17 minutes before class, a couple videos from United Streaming (one investigating the Salem Witch Trials, another peeking at the mania around McCarthyism), an idea about where I want to go, and a bunch of words leaking through my ears.

I’ll go with the videos, but also with the words. Fear. Mania. Gossip. Manipulation. Ignorance. Character. I like the words because I am not the only one who can think of words. My students can think of them just as easily, so I hope they’ll enjoy thinking of them as a starting place. We’ll start by creating a list, post it to a Wiki so we can all see it at close range, and then explore further through the videos. Then we’ll add to our words, discuss them, and if we are building sincerely, write with them.

That sounds like a good lesson to me. We’ll see how it works out.