Tomorrow is the opening day of the new school year. I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t admit to being just a little nervous. I enjoy thinking about how to proceed in the first few days. Those first few classes are by far the most important as the teacher has the opportunity to set the tone for the year. My goal is to present the subject as an opportunity not just to learn a set of dry facts, but to create a space for serious reflection about some of the deep issues.
This year I am going to have my students write their own obituaries. The plan is to hand out a copy of the Obituary Page from the New York Times and have the students reflect on a range of different entries. Here are just a few questions that they will think about and discuss: (1) What do we learn about these recently deceased individuals? (2) Are longer entries more effective in capturing the individual’s past compared with shorter entries? (3) In what ways are these entries selective and what would you like to know about these people that is is not covered and why? (4) In what ways do these entries reflect their authors?
Finally, the students are asked to write their own obituaries. I like this idea as it forces them to think of themselves as historian and historical object. How do they want to be remembered? How important is accuracy in crafting their individual past for others? I am looking forward to seeing what they come up with. This could be a bit uncomfortable for some, but hopefully it will prove to be a fruitful experiment.