Tag Archives: classroom ideas

The Motorcycle Diaries: Notes on a Latin American Journey

I just finished reading The Motorcycle Diaries by Che Guevara, and what a ride it was. At first I was thinking that there’s not a lot to say about this book that hasn’t already been said. However, I was wondering how useful it would be to contextualize Guevara’s narrative as a travel story, instead of as some sort of pre-Communist-manifesto. Surely many of Guevara’s revolutionary ideas, such as his opinions on public healthcare, can be attributed to experiences he had on his cross-continental journey. But politicizing aside–how epic of an adventure did Che and his travel partner REALLY have? Is it at all comparable to some of the greater gems of travel literature, such as Kerouac’s On the Road?

Obviously, Guevara’s prose is much less wax poetic than Kerouac’s, although that’s difficult for me to say since it’s been translated into English. It’s entirely possible (probable?) that in his native language, Che’s musings were as eloquent, humorous, and original as the ones we read in Kerouac’s account. Here are a few of my favorite quotes:

“For me, the sea has always been a confidant, a friend absorbing all it is told and never revealing those secrets; always giving the best advice–its meaningful noises can be interpreted any way you choose.” (page 34)

“In the half-light that surrounded us, phantoms swirled around and around but ‘she’ would not appear. I still believed I loved her until this moment, when I realized I felt nothing.” (page 54)

“As if patiently dissecting, we pry into dirty stairways and dark recesses, talking to the swarms of beggars; we plumb the city’s depths, the miasmas draw us in. Our distended nostrils inhale the poverty with sadistic intensity.” (page 69)

Che with motorcycle, taken from Google Image Search.

Each section of the novel is also poetically titled, examples: “Ever northward,” “Toward the navel of the world,” and “And now, I feel my great roots unearth, free and…” The emotions of the wide-eyed, excited young doctor come through easily in the prose. The entire last section, “A note in the margin,” is one of the most beautiful pieces of reflection I’ve read in a long time.

The edition of the novel that I have, published by Ocean Press, would be particularly useful as a classroom set, and could be taught in a middle school language arts class. I think Guevara’s first-person account could be a great addition to a unit on Latin American or non-English speaking authors. It could also be useful in the context of nonfiction/biographical writing, travel literature (as I mentioned above), or in a historical/political unit about Latin America and Che himself. It’s a very flexible book.

It also lends itself to classroom use because of its vignette-style organization. It’s not broken down into individual chapters, but rather short narrative expositions that are never more than five or six pages long (i.e. could be easily excerpted, photo-copied, and distributed to students, if you want to include the book in your unit but don’t have time to read the entire thing.) Additionally, and maybe most importantly for students, there’s a lot of supplementary contextualization in the Ocean Press edition, including a map and timeline of Che and Alberto’s journey that could be photo-copied, enlarged, and displayed on a bulletin board. It also has an entire section of *gasp* pictures!

But back to the meat of the book. I imagine it’s hard for anyone reading this blog–someone sitting in a comfortable, air-conditioned room, linked up to wireless internet–to imagine what the breadth of Guevara’s travels must have been like. But the one thing I found somewhat unsettling about Che’s writing was his constant complaining about his asthmatic condition. I’m using the word unsettling for a reason–it didn’t annoy me, and certainly was relevant to his discussion about his experiences–but I kept wondering how the hell he didn’t die. From what he writes, you get the impression that his asthma was really, really bad, and certainly the sub-par medical conditions from both traveling and traveling in such underdeveloped countries didn’t help. It seemed like every other day he was having an asthma attack and was completely incapacitated. It made me even more in awe of his commitment to his journey…most people with such a debilitating medical condition wouldn’t have even considered such a grand undertaking.

I’ll try to write more on how to incorporate The Motorcycle Diaries into an English or humanities classroom later. I think I’d most likely use it to highlight a fun example of creative nonfiction to middle schoolers. Kids could see it as an example of how they can write about their own incredible journeys, using figurative language and sociopolitical theme. How would you use it?

Whether or not you agree with his “politics,” you can’t deny that Che was a great revolutionary, and someone to be admired.


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From HuffPoEdu: How Teachers are Addressing the Death of Osama Bin Laden

Huffington Post reporter Joy Resmovitz has written an article that addresses the ways that teachers across the country are contextualizing the news of Osama Bin Laden’s death for their students.

I think this article hits at a vital point that I want my blog to continually stress: teachers are responsible for how their students think. Also, your students should see you as an educated, informed authority who can voice a knowledgeable opinion. Of course, not every teacher feels comfortable expressing their opinions to a classroom full of adolescents, and that’s fine. Some things are best kept out of the classroom discussion.

But given these current events, there’s no doubt that teachers in the humanities feel the need to contextualize the death of Osama Bin Laden and its larger implications. Today in one of my classes, where we are studying cosmopolitan East Africa, the professor was able to relate Bin Laden’s ideologies and what he stood for to other things we’ve learned throughout the semester.

Personally, in an English classroom, there are a lot of different ways you can deal with current events. If it sounds like something students are really pressed to talk about, and they have questions, allow an open discussion. One of the best things a teacher can do is create a classroom where students feel comfortable expressing themselves and their unique ideas. They should be able to bounce their ideas off of each other–and you–and learn something from the process. After all, isn’t this how learning in the real world works? How often have we walked away from a discussion or debate with a new perspective and new outlook?

Of course, discussions can be implemented in the classroom in a variety of ways. You can do a whole-class discussion, or even split the students up into small groups if you think it would be useful to them. It also might be a good idea to have them journal on it, at the beginning or end of a class discussion. What do you guys think?

I’d also try to relate it back to course material, if at all possible. For example, in my East Africa class today, the discussion had me thinking about the fact that Osama Bin Laden was really the “face” behind a movement, more than just an evil person in and of himself. This could be comparable to other villains in texts that students have read. If you’re studying the Diary of Anne Frank, Night, or other Holocaust literature, this could be related back to Hitler. Ask the students to relate the event back to how Holocaust survivors might have reacted upon hearing about Hitler’s death. There isn’t any “right answer”–it’s just a great way to show students that they can connect what they’re learning in your classroom to their own lives and “the real world” (as they call it–haha).

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