Section 8: Projects for the Literature or STEM Classroom


For activities
for this book for students and what they might take
from this book, I think it’s about thinking
about your own life, in terms of
individual behavior, versus group behavior
and group pressures. I think that’s a really
interesting idea to consider. With teams,
with any kind of group behavior
and how teams operate. I think the idea
of homelessness and how that impacts anybody
in one’s community is interesting to explore. I think participation
and looking at something. You know, we had a participant
in one of our seminars who took the idea of transects
and the intertidal and went back to study
a patch of ground, just to see what happened,
just to look carefully and see what happens when you look
carefully at any environment. -And she was going to do
that over years, I think, like season-to-season,
year-to-year, and look at variation and
I think that’s a great idea. You can do that anywhere. I think interviewing,
another thing. Steinbeck was
really interested in capturing the voices
of the people. I think “Grapes of Wrath”
should be read aloud, chapter-by-chapter, to one
another, or listen to it, because he really wanted
to get the purity of the voices of these people
who spoke differently from the dominant class
and they were a group. They were called “Okies”, which
is a kind of slur in California, but they had a very colorful
and original speech and he wanted to capture that,
capture their music, their folk ways,
their histories, their attitudes towards
work and cars. And look at how many people
work in the novel. and he tries to capture
the voices of the workers. So it’s a book full
of voices and, I think, if students can just listen
to the variety of voices in their own communities,
you can hear that and get a sense
of how several make one. I think also,
Steinbeck insisted on the first edition of
“The Grapes of Wrath,” that the “Battle Hymn
of the Republic” be printed
on the end papers. So students might like
to think about that song, it’s relevance to
“The Grapes of Wrath”; why Steinbeck wanted to insist
that it was an American book, a quintessentially
American book. Even though it’s
about group behavior and people working together,
that didn’t make it a Communist book
or a Socialist book. It’s really about that strain
in American history that says we have to work
as a community as well as be individuals,
so I think that is an interesting idea
to explore. How about scientifically,
in terms of nonteleological thinking
or what do we…? -Oh, well, hmm. Well, the only
specific example in Ricketts’s nonteleological
thinking essay in “Sea of Cortez”
that I can comprehend is why matchsticks aren’t all
the same length. [Laughs] It’s meant to sort of show the difficulty in
establishing cause and effect and where do you
draw the line and say “This is the ultimate answer,”
what caused what? And so the idea is to measure
all the matchsticks in a pack of matches
and you find out that they’re slightly
different lengths and then you tabulate them
and make bell-shaped curves and you see there’s a mean
and a standard deviation, but you want to know why. And so then you go
to the factory where the matches are made
and you see that they’re made by machines
or I suppose you could have people cutting them
with razor blades. But, you know, there’s going
to be variation in that, too, because of different reasons
and that sort of leads — And he sort of throws it aside,
in “Sea of Cortez,” about how it leads to the whole
idea of biological variation, which is another subject,
but I think the idea of variation and
adaptability are really two sides of the same coin,
evolution, and, by measuring things and seeing
how things vary and then considering what factors
have caused the variability, is scientifically really,
really important for students and to relate it to literature,
I think, would be fun. -So reread Chapter 14 in both
“The Grapes of Wrath” and “Sea of Cortez”
and compare them. Chapter 14:
the important chapter. You could do experiments
with collective behavior. Like, have a bunch of
little fish, or something, and have one fish in one tank
and 10 in another and 2 in another
and see how they differ. -Goldfish. Yeah, something like that.
Guppies. -Okay, good. Yeah, I think
I’ll go try that. -[Laughs] Okay. I’ll use a squid, though.
-Okay. And I think another thing that
students might think about is just connection to place
because Steinbeck is really writing
“The Grapes of Wrath” out of the Joads’
connection to place and what that meant
in Oklahoma. I mean, really, over a third
of the book is about Oklahoma and what it meant to live
in Oklahoma, versus California; what it means to journey
to California. So connection to place, I think,
is what makes Steinbeck a great writer, because he
was intimately connected to his own place:
the Salinas Valley, California, a sense of what that meant,
to be connected to place. And I just read a really
great editorial, actually, by David Brooks, talking about
the reason that Springsteen was so popular in Europe,
with all these teenagers knowing the lyrics to,
you know, Springsteen’s songs
about New Jersey, was just that he went into
a deep appreciation of place. And the reason he can speak
to so many people, across so many cultures, is that he represents,
you know, love of place, in all its kind of
infinite variety. And I think Steinbeck’s
love of California and what that meant to him,
in terms of land and people and history
and mythologies and movement West
and the California Dream — which, of course,
is the Joads’ dream, to come here and find acres
and pick oranges and grapes and come here in that way,
that all of that is part of what it meant
to live in California and that he explores that
again and again and again. And so that deep understanding
of place is something, you know, students might think about
in their own lives. -Yeah, I mean, you can’t
really know yourself without knowing the place
you came from, so. -And who you are
and where you are, so.

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