Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Exploring Invictus

For the past few years, the entire sixth grade has read Beverley Naidoo's apartheid-era novel, Journey to Jo'burg.  The story itself is a simple one and it is accessible to readers of all levels in our grade.  What's more meaningful, however, are the lessons about injustice, oppression and freedom that arise from the plot.

A few years ago, back in 2009 to be precise, I went to the movies with my husband.  A preview for Clint Eastwood's film Invictus rolled before the movie and I immediately thought of taking the kids to see it.  It was difficult to really paint the picture in the kids' minds about how recent apartheid was and what it really looked like.  They had images in their minds of the American Civil Rights Movement, and as much as I wanted to draw parallels in class, apartheid really looked and felt quite different.  Right in the preview itself, there were the exact images of South Africa that I had been trying to explain. 

I was given the OK by administration to bring the kids to the movie once I had previewed it and kept notes on any objectionable material in the PG-13 film.  For those who are keeping track, there are three expletives (only one of the "big one") and a kissing scene.  Permission slips went out and in December of 2009 we took the students in a few school vans to a local theater to see the movie.  The general sense was that they loved it.  The movie was enjoyable and had moments of levity, but it also really showed them what I had so much trouble describing.  It was one of the highlights of that year.

Since then, we have watched the film every year in the classroom.  This year, the kids particularly enjoyed it and were devastated when the bell rang for dismissal and we had to pause it.  The focus of the reading course in May is not only on Jo'burg, but also poetry and symbolism.  It seems fitting, then, to explore the poem "Invictus" by William Ernest Henley that is a repeating theme in the movie.

In reading today, we pulled the poem apart into its four verses.  After reading and discussing its meaning and its importance to Nelson Mandela, each student was partnered up and tackled one verse from the poem.  The verse was printed and glued to posterboard, then the partners created a collage of images related to the poem's meaning and impact in Mandela's life and experience.  Below are some works in progress.  I allowed them to use images from Google as well as magazine pictures and words.

The kids had really interesting interpretations about the poem and many of their collages turned out really well.  I look forward to trying similar projects with other poems and passages.


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