Empathy in The Odyssey

  1. I’m getting close to the end of the semester and my class has just finished Part I of The Odyssey (required text), and we’ll hopefully complete Part II next week.
  2.  I need to have my freshmen students write a multi-paragraph narrative.
  3. I recently attended the #NCTE2016 conference in Atlanta.

In Atlanta, the most inspiring to me were the sessions that recommended, or rather insisted upon bringing your own talents and passions into the classroom. What really drew me to teach English in the first place was the American Transcendentalists. I don’t even teach Junior English currently, but I still love to find ways to make the curriculum relevant or put a twist on it, by bringing in things that I find truly interesting, so that hopefully I can hook some students into that, too. ELA is so flexible that way.

Additionally, I sometimes have to just roll with the curriculum, even if it isn’t something I’m an expert in, like The Odyssey. After teaching The Odyssey for the second time, I do enjoy it because the students get into it: the gods, the hero, the adventure. I also insist on the students reading the text translation closely, and I read it with them. I enjoy the role of the translator so to speak, and I think they need it to really appreciate the story. But, I digress.

Several different educators were working with digital storytelling, empathy, and personal narratives, sometimes all three at once! Herein lies my challenge. I am trying to figure out exactly how to combine The Odyssey, personal narrative, the Hero’s Journey, and empathy.

To create this assignment, I am informed by these ideas, the following quotes, and hopefully, the writing of this post.

From Homer: “Yet, taught by time, my heart has learned to glow for other’s good, and melt at other’s woe.”

From Joseph Campbell: “The achievement of the hero is one that he is ready for and it’s really a manifestation of his character. It’s amusing the way in which the landscape and conditions of the environment match the readiness of the hero. The adventure that he is ready for is the one he gets.”

From a blog I stumbled upon, on The Hero’s Inner Journey: “It is the story of fulfillment. But it is not one that is readily seen, and instead must be perceived through the interpretation of the plot and empathizing with the hero’s ever evolving character. Now within this internal journey, there are three basic character arcs:

  1. To risk being who you really are. The hero learns to stand up for who he is regardless of what others think.

  2. To risk doing what is right. The hero does the honest thing in spite of the consequences.

  3. To risk connecting with others. The hero opens up to relationships even if they bring trouble and sorrow.

I think the three basic character arcs will ultimately be the most helpful in planning this assignment.

I’d love to have students create a narrative and a digital storytelling piece to accompany it. One example I saw showed the students’ voiceover along with stop-motion, illustrations, film, or photography.

The thing that struck me as so special about this assignment was that the focus was on empathy and teaching students how to a) be vulnerable, and b) experience empathy.

So the students described being an outsider (the accompanying text was The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton). Now, I realize The Odyssey is a bit more of a stretch, but  I think I can pull it off.

Currently, I’m thinking of having my students work in pairs to do a close reading activity with the quotes from Homer and Campbell.

I have a series of empathy articles that I will have my students jigsaw.

Then, I’ll introduce the idea of The Hero’s Inner Journey and the character arcs, with special emphasis on: risk, consequences, trouble, sorrow, and empathy.

These activities will lead into the narrative assignment:

Choose the basic character arc that you can relate to the most and tell the story of your own Inner Hero’s Journey.

This is my rough draft anyway…. I’d be interested to hear any feedback. Thanks for reading!