Originally created 02/03/01

Students relate to classic tales



It's been 76 years since Nick Carraway sat there brooding on the old, unknown world and thought of Gatsby's wonder when he first picked out that green light at the end of Daisy's dock.

But students at T. W. Josey Comprehensive High School still find F. Scott Fitzgerald's tale of ambition, wealth and, ultimately, failure, as entertaining and relevant today as it was when it was first published in 1925.

"It's the quest for the American dream, and the students are in search of it," said Dianne Gilyard, chairwoman of the school's English department. "They want a Gatsby life, not necessarily a set of Gatsby values."

While the students find it easy to relate to some 20th century authors, Fitzgerald included, other authors don't have such an influence on today's high school students, Mrs. Gilyard said.

For example, Mrs. Gilyard said she stopped teaching J.D. Salinger's classic The Catcher in the Rye seven years ago because the students couldn't relate.

Still, most of the curriculum at Josey has remained the same in the past 25 years because it continues to connect with students. The students at Josey - and every other school in Richmond County - study samplings of Chaucer and Shakespeare, Hawthorne and Twain, Frost and Fitzgerald.

The students say they relate to authors such as Fitzgerald and Shakespeare because these scribes captured something in their writings that prevents their work from ever being dated or antiquated.

"We deal with the same things, you know," said Arnez Clark, an 18-year-old senior. "Temptations, jealousy, anger. I think that's why we read it, because we can relate, because we can learn from it."

Ramon Brown, 18, one of Mr. Clark's classmates, said great literature succeeds in making students use their imagination.

"It opens your eyes, broadens your mind, and you kind of learn to improve your own writing, how to talk, how to get across what you want to say," he said.

Teacher Melanie Lumpkin said her 11th-grade students love Shakespeare's Macbeth. "They relate it to modern day things. They enjoy it. It's gruesome, and the kids are into it."

Student Jamichael Bush, 17, said Macbeth is relevant because people do the same things today, make the same mistakes today, as people did 500 years ago.

Jamichael said his favorite book is Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter.

"They gave into temptation, they tried to cover it up - and they did for a while - but then everybody found out," he said.

Ninth-grader Kelora Myles, 14, said she really enjoyed reading Homer's Odyssey. "I like that it's an exciting story and it shows how he uses his wits to overcome obstacles and find his way home."

Whether its Hemingway or Hawthorne, Melville or Miller, teachers say all of their students seem to attach to one book or another. When the student makes that attachment, the teachers say they know they've done their job.

"Students today are so worldly, so global," said Linda Merriweather, a 14-year veteran of Josey's English department. "Teachers have so many other things to compete with: technology, video games. ... It can be difficult."

Reach Justin Martin at (706) 823-3552.