As part of our reading The Crucible and The Scarlet Letter I assign various other Puritan texts for my students to make connections and analyze author purpose and rhetorical structure. This week my AP students read “The Devil and Tom Walker” by Washington Irving and “A Model of Christian Charity” by John Winthrop.
They enjoyed Irving’s short story; as author of stories like “Sleepy Hollow,” he tells a good ghost story, which we analyzed for syntax and diction. Vocab words like “termagant” and “clapper-clawing” were particularly popular. We used it to further explore the Puritan need to physically personify Satan as a walking, breathing creature out to tempt straying Puritans, which helps explain a lot of the craziness of The Crucible.
When I brought up Winthrop’s 1630 sermon, also known as the “City on a Hill” speech, I got far less engagement. By a show of honest hands, only a few pushed all the way through the ten pages. The rest, when asked if they read, answered, “No, it was too boring.”
I actually assign this text expecting this response, so here’s how I justified it to my students.
|The Mayflower Compact – Source|
- I hook this lesson with showing the students a copy of the Mayflower Compact, then asking a brave, outgoing student to attempt to decipher it. We talk about how English was not standardized, and we identify various shorthand (An. Dom.), odd phrasing (“dread sovereign Lord King James”), and funny handwriting (like “s” in the middle of words looking like “f”s).
- I validate that the text I gave them was hard. I point out that most local newspaper reporting is written at a middle school reading level. I tell them they already read at a higher level than most of the American public.
- These documents are at the foundation of our country’s values and rule of law. The Constitution can sound a lot like this archaic text at times, and how many of us claim to be constitutionalists who haven’t recently read the Constitution? Dear students, this is your history. We should be able to read it.
- While the excerpt of Winthrop’s text taught in most classes tends to be Law-focused, the entire sermon is about Christian love – hence the title. He uses the Bible entirely as his research basis, and it’s a beautiful example of theology for my students.
- If we focus in reading language styles that we “like” or that “interest us,” we are creating our own literary echo chambers, and an unawareness of what other points of view exist beyond our own. We are limiting our understanding of the world and our ability to problem-solve. None of this is a good thing!
- If none of these reasons convince my kiddos, I explain the SAT and ACT have old-timey passages on them now, and this reading helps them do better for college tests…