Friday, September 2, 2016

Teaching Flannery in Milledgeville

I find it a fortunate turn that I teach Freshman Composition classes. I'm unconstrained from the limitations of “American” or “British” or “World” in assigning readings, and these courses will have a little of everything: from John Donne to Alice Walker and back again. My students’ first readings in college are O’Connor stories: “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” “Greenleaf,” and I will toss in a couple of more comic tales if time and scheduling permits. “Good Man” is frequently reprinted; the others less so and I have to scrounge a bit to get enough copies for the kids to read. I am only partially selfish in adding in a couple from the top of my list of favorites, “Good Country People” and “Parker’s Back”; I’d like for the students’ Flannery experience to have some of her requisite dark comedy, as well.

Students at our various local public schools and three post-secondary schools are beyond fortunate to have the author’s home so near. The new school year just begun has already brought several English classes to the farm, and more are to come as we get into the cooler months and as reading schedules coalesce. The teachers may have gone on their private literary pilgrimages to the farm before, but their enthusiasm for sharing their favorite writer’s home is infectious indeed. It is O’Connor-esque, indeed, that for all the busybodies and preening moralists among Flannery’s fictional educators, real ones flock to her house and bring their students with them.

I have been fortunate enough to lead tours of middle schoolers and college students both, and their responses to the house and grounds are more alike than one might guess. They are jarred by Flannery’s crutches leaning on the wardrobe and enamored with the tailfeathers of Manley II. They learn of course of the writer and her fiction, but also some ornithology, botany, and maybe even some home economics along the way too. Farms are the original interdisciplinary classroom.

Our most recent field trip guests were the students of Georgia College’s Sandy Dimon, themselves Freshmen and taking their first classes in college. She’s passed along to me some of their reactions from a prompt she uses in her classes, and I am indebted to her for doing so:
I couldn't imagine a better lesson in "setting" than a trip to Andalusia to read "Good Country People" aloud with my students. Here are a few comments from that day:
· "I was able to listen to the story while imagining the scenes taking place in the buildings around me."
· "I've never read a story while sitting in the setting of it. It was a great experience."
· "[It is easy] to understand the underlying sense of loneliness which exists in [Good Country People]."
· "I felt the presence of O'Connor as she wrote the story."
· "This experience is something I will take with me and remember as something bigger than just a class away from campus. But [sic] a way to get inside a story and make it truly come alive."
Students appreciated the house also, particularly O'Connor's crutches and the typewriter. Many had never seen such an instrument and had trouble imagining writing even a small paper without an online thesaurus and spell-check! Several referenced the fact that Andalusia is a free museum and a wonderful place to "get away"; one student felt moved to give his last $5 as a donation.

I would encourage area teachers to arrange a field trip to "the farm." It is ours; O'Connor is ours; we should celebrate.
And celebrate we shall on September 15th. As part of our last Thursdalusia of the season, we will dedicate our Little Free Library, a project undertaken in conjunction with Georgia College’s Russell Library. That project is a way to keep the spirit of literary education alive and well at the farm for students of all ages. We’re educators after our fashion at the farm. (Even my colleagues there from the art world!) While our ideas about Flannery, her fiction, and the running of the farm are valuable on their own, our real hope is to spur our visitors into a perpetual and self-sustaining love of learning. For those who take us up on that offer, every day is a field trip and every destination a museum.

Daniel Wilkinson is a Visitor Services Assistant/Bon Vivant at Andalusia Farm and an Instructor of English at Georgia College.  

Sandy Dimon is an adjunct instructor of English at Georgia College, an AP Reader, and a judge for Georgia One-Act and literary competitions. She also serves on the Board of Directors of the MilledgeVille Players.

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