Today in my Composition I classes, I taught “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” by Ursula K. Le Guin. It’s a story that’s meant to provoke discussion and critical thinking among the students so that they can better compose a reader response essay. I have a new textbook this year, and a new syllabus to go with it. I have never taught this story before today, but by the time I got home from work, I’d taught it three times. It really struck a chord with most of the students, especially after we discussed utopian and dystopian societies and how the two are more similar than they seem. We discussed the disparity between perfection and imperfection, the power of ideals such as “The American Dream” and what one person’s happiness might cost another. They definitely understood the concepts of “the scapegoat” and “the greater good” better than I’d hoped. Because they got so wrapped up in discussing the story, we didn’t finish all I had planned for the day. Some of them were even reluctant to leave the classroom when I told them our fifty minutes were up.
Whether their reader response papers contain the exact structure and content I’m looking for seems beside the point now. During today’s class meetings I saw the dawn of a new perspective in many of their faces, and if I’ve gotten them to expand their point of view even a little, I feel pleased. They will not all leave my courses writing like Hemingway or Fitzgerald, but maybe they will have learned that good writing–literature–is magical. It is more than just well-crafted words. It has the power to open the mind’s eye to whole new places and concepts and bring new meaning to everyday life. It is in the hope that I can teach them to recognize and use that magic that I teach.