One of the most popular units I teach is a pairing of A Confederacy of Dunces and the film The Big Lebowski, for my Literature and Film course (the unit is on cult classics). It follows on the heels of reading and watching The Big Sleep (which Lebowski is loosely based on) alongside other noir classics.
Most teachers do a double-take when they hear that I show The Big Lebowski in class. I am lucky. I work for an alternative private (mostly non-profit) high school, in an environment more akin to a start-up. Most of the students at our school are anxious, reluctant kids who have previously dropped out or been expelled from the other local public high schools, for a variety of reasons. I was also kicked out of high school in 10th grade, so I can relate. So much makes me mad when I see where these kids are at by the time they get here: bored, scared, given up on. My job, beyond the basics of teaching them the important difference between a comma and a semi-colon, is to get them to give a shit. About something, anything. And then to believe that they can do something about it. I don’t really care if it’s about literature. A lot of my passion about teaching is focused on creating interdisciplinary curriculum (see: The Literature of Sport, The Literature of Economics).
Anyhow, when I first proposed teaching this unit I got some Looks, most involving Eyebrows. Be patient, I told the owners of these Eyebrows. Wait. Watch.
Here is a list of a few essay titles from last semester:
- He’s a Good Man, and Thorough: A Medieval Misfit in A Confederacy of Dunces
- A Lengthy Indictment Against Our Century
- We Believe in Nothing, Lebowski: Nihilism as Comedy
- That’s Just Like, Your Opinion, Man: What Makes a Cult Classic
- That Rug Really Tied the Room Together: A Compendium of Visual Motifs in The Big Lebowski
- Urban Unachievers: A Character Analysis of Ignatius J. Reilly
- Theology and Geometry: Fate vs. Nihilism
- The Picaresque Dude
So, not only do they know not to leave their homework in a stolen car, but they can also now riff on Nietzche, noir, the picaresque, Jonathan Swift, and Boethian philosophy. I will take that over a five paragraph essay that reads like a needlepoint pillow, thank you very much.