Friday, March 26, 2010

Student Writing: Connecting American Literature to the Inner Student

Students were asked to write about how their study of the different eras of American literature and the writers of each era applied to their lives. What could they learn from the nation's and individual writers' attempts to make sense of life in order to find success and fulfillment. Below are students' responses.

--by Thomas W.
 The United States has over two hundred years of diverse and successful history and writing. Over those two hundred years Americans have had to make many very important decisions, and they have been very successful in most of these decisions. Because of the fluctuating consciousness of Americans, these decisions have been made in many different ways. I can combine the decision-making processes of many different American eras to make my decisions more powerful and successful.
The people of the Revolutionary Era used reasoning and intellect to make their decisions. They successfully gained the independence of our country through the success of their carefully reasoned decisions. When writing the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson listed many ideas of how the king of Britain abused his power over the colonies: “He has refused his assent to laws the most wholesome and necessary for the public good. He has affected to render the military independent of, and superior to, the civil power.” He showed the careful reasoning that was used by the Revolutionary Era leaders when making the decision to separate from Great Britain. “I ask gentlemen, what means this martial array, if its purpose not be to force us to submission?” Patrick Henry said in his “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death” speech. In this statement he is showing reasons to why negotiating with the British would not work. Because of this reasoning, the people of the Revolutionary Era made the proper decisions to secure America’s independence. Using reasoning to make my decisions will make my decisions more successful. For example, when I need to choose which college to go to, I should take advantage of the reasoning strategies of the Revolutionary Era. I should think of all of the pros and cons of each college, and use them to come to a good decision. The people of the Revolutionary Era used reasoning to increase the success of their decisions, and I have learned that I can also use the same reasoning to increase the success of my own decisions.
During the Romantic Era, Americans emphasized feelings and emotions in their writing and all areas of their life. I can take advantage of my feelings and emotions to cause my decisions bring me more happiness. In one of Edgar Allan Poe’s stories, a man locks up another man because he did not like the other man. Although this was not a life supporting decision, it brought the man happiness because he acted off his feelings. In the story Rip Van Winkle, Rip may have gone off into the woods to avoid his wife. He acted off the feeling that his wife was not someone he wanted to spend time with, and because he acted off his feelings his decision brought him happiness. When choosing a college, not only should I use reason, but I should also take into account my feelings and emotions. Using my feelings and emotions will give my decision a better chance of bringing me the most possible happiness. The Romantic Era has taught me that emotion and feelings can be very useful when making decisions.
Another era I can learn from, is the era of the colonials. The Puritans of that time had a belief that God would do what’s right, so they did not stress too much about their decisions. The explorers based their decisions off their ambition. Because Anne Bradstreet had faith in God, she did not let the burning of her house ruin her life and she continued with her life. Once I make my decisions, I should follow them and accept what ever comes from them. The explorers of that era also can help me with my decision-making.  The explorers' ambitions led them to make decisions that they thought would bring them the most success and happiness. In John Smith’s account of his life in Virginia, he describes the president of his settlement trying to steal a boat and leave the settlement. The president took this action because he was trying to bring himself happiness. When deciding which college to go to, I should use what I have learned from the explorers and do what I think will bring me the most happiness, but also use what I have learned from the Puritans and allow my decision to do its work and not let it cause too much stress.
I have learned a lot about decision-making through our study of American literature. The Revolutionary Era has taught me to use reasoning, the Romantic Era to use emotions and feelings, and the Colonial Era to do what I think will make me most happy but then let my decisions work themselves out, without causing me any stress. When I make important decisions, I will take advantage of all of this knowledge so my decisions will be as successful as they can be.

 --by Ryan S.
There are many styles in American literature, both individual and of different eras. The long, rich literary history of America is not only fun to read, but its ideas and meanings can help me improve my life. All the eras have different systems for deciding; I can benefit from applying their concepts to my life. The progression of culture is such that many styles of decision making and prioritizing appear at many times in the past and their themes can be useful. 
The first era that is useful is also the first in the human history of America. The Native Americans knew the most about the land and all natural things, alive or not. They survived for millennia and never destroyed resources, because if they wasted what they lived on they would all die. Their tradition of harmony and the culture of the groups and tribes represented the value of Smriti. Harmony with the natural world may be the most important practice for us to apply today. Their culture was beneficial to the balance of life, and if I, like them, am not disrupting my surroundings I can live without bad things happening back to me. It is also obvious that their knowledge of the environment enabled them to survive without conventional technology or agriculture. When people give back to the land as much as they take from it, they can keep living on the land and won’t kill off species and mess up the natural cycles they rely on. While Native Americans used Smriti, their coexistence with their environment, to be successful, the Europeans would use Sthapatya Veda to support their successful exploration and colonization of the continent.   
The next era in American literature is also the first in which Europeans are present in America. The era of exploration and subsequent colonization present a strategy that can be helpful for me to better understand my environment. The literature explains that the people were industrious and faithful, the hallmarks of productive people. As they relied on the same things individuals in a new situation rely on, knowledge and faith, I can use those to gain ground in uncertain times, and studying the literature is my contact to those people. The last thing they had was overwhelming economic and military might from their home country, which was, though not so much mentioned in literature, the driving force that enabled Europeans to be successful. I can apply that to my life by not changing my life or moving unless I know I can be successful (although the colonists didn’t exactly know they would be successful in the end). I can also have faith in myself and God, and work to gain knowledge and the confidence of people so that I can more easily find a place to live and work. The knowledge from Sthapatya Veda provided a basis for this era in literature, and the next era was successful based on its use of Kalp’s transforming power.             
The final era to discuss in American literature is the first in which the United States could start calling themselves "united" or even "states." When the country was fighting for the right to be independent of Britain, it became logical and cautious in its proceedings and literature using reason over faith, and this helped it on its way to freedom and redefining the relationship between the government and the governed. The colonies used a disciplined plan that found common ground among its various leaders that exhausted every peaceful approach with Britain; and they had every right to be free, so the war was justified and gave France reason to ally with them. In my life, I can also be clear in thinking to help sort out legal arrangements and contracts like mortgages and lawsuits. Clear thinking is also helpful in planning long-term goals in life such as investments and family. As transformation is a progress, it takes a while, and I will need to make changes over time using reason and a disciplined plan. The Vedic study of Kalp provides guidance to the goal of successful transformations both when the colonists were having to draft a government based on their economic, political, and moral needs and now as I am making decisions based on my physical, mental, and moral obligations instead of burdening others to make decisions for me.             
So in summary, the first era lived in harmony with its surroundings, and I can do that and live more peacefully; the second was building and establishing in faith and knowledge, and I can do this in unfamiliar situations to get a grasp of everything and put down roots; and the third was using reasoning to work out political deals and war, and I can use that in goal setting or in times of change when I need to work things out.

  As a teacher of Concsiousness-Based education, I try to connect the outer field of study to the inner lives of the students. I try to make what we are studying immediately and personally important to each student. The best way I have found to do this is to approach literature as the attempt by the writer to make sense of the world and then to attempt to convey that understanding to the reader. My question to the students was this: Did what these writers say help you in any way? Although there are several places were the logic and background knowledge of American literature and history reveal some thinness, overall I believe that these students gained some insights by their course of study.

Copyright 2010 by Thomas L. Kepler, all rights reserved
All rights of student writing retained by the individual writers


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