Jahrine’s Deer Class and the late Maya Angelou
On May 28th of this year, the world lost one of its most inspiring and influential artists: Maya Angelou.
During the week of her death, two of my Deer classes were in the middle of writing literary responses on Angelou’s short story ‘New Directions’. The story is set in 1903 and depicts protagonist Annie Johnson’s struggle for a better life. She is a woman who does not listen to what society tells her she – an uneducated, divorced black woman with two young children to support – must be, and instead cuts a brand new path for herself.
While studying the life of Maya Angelou, my students were able to see parallels in the lives of Angelou and the character Annie. They were able to analyze the message of the story and wrote of the literary devices used by Angeliou to convey this message. They also made connections to the world and other texts with similar themes.
After completing their essays, students created powerpoint slides and presented their ideas to their class. Presentations are often given in class, but this time I asked them to focus on engaging the audience and not rely too much on reading from their notes.
The final presentations were well-researched and performed with confidence. Here are some excerpts from different students’ works:
Not only “New Directions” defined the the struggle for a better life. In Junior Alexie’s novel “The absolutely true Diary of a part-time Indian” the author used his own experiences to show how changing your life can help you find the best way to live. Junior, an ordinary native who lives on a poor Indian Reservation does not surrender to his fate. He goes to a white school, ignoring the teasing from both the reservation and the white school kids. He bravely changes his path for a better future. Always, for a better future, people step off the path they are not happy with and cut themselves a brand new path. A transfer student also stepped off the path he thought did no good for him and cut himself a satisfying new road. Jindy, who was a student from one of the poor elementary schools in China, decided to change. In the area where Jindy lived, education was not even half as important as farming, but Jindy did not want to waste his life on farming, he craved knowledge and wanted to become a better man. On the first day of the school year, he registered at a famous school and studied there. With the knowledge he owned, Jindy became a very rich man.
by Jaden Lu
Within New Directions, Angelou shows the conflict between Annie and society. In the south of the USA during 1903, many white people did not like black people. They thought black people were below them. It was hard for big black women such as Annie to find a good job. But Annie did not surrender. She fought with society using her courage. “…two toddling sons, very little money, a slight to red and add simple numbers……She was a Negro.” Annie could succeed because she was brave and wise. Angelou characterizes Annie in this way. She shows she is brave by showing us how, every morning and evening, Annie “…placed stones in two five gallon pails and carried them three miles to the cotton gin. She worked into the early hours boiling chicken and frying ham.” Annie has courage to challenge herself and change her life.
by Daniel Li