Author:
Bryan Harvey
Subject:
English Language Arts, Composition and Rhetoric, Reading Literature
Material Type:
Activity/Lab, Assessment, Homework/Assignment
Level:
High School, Community College / Lower Division
Tags:
  • Analysis
  • Nonfiction
  • Persuasion
  • Rhetoric
  • Synthesis
    License:
    Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike
    Language:
    English
    Media Formats:
    Downloadable docs

    Education Standards

    Certainty & Doubt in the writings of Jonathan Edwards and Langston Hughes

    Certainty & Doubt in the writings of Jonathan Edwards and Langston Hughes

    Overview

    The activities here work on analysis and synthesis skills. They take canonized text that are often taught at different times in the school year due to their placement in U.S. and world history and ask students to pair them together. A variety of activities and assessments are described or suggested throughout this resource to help students explore the boundaries surrounding certainty and doubt and lived experience. 

    An introduction to certainty and doubt in 11th grade English

    What's included here is usually part of a larger year-end, or semester-long, endeavor. When teaching AP Language and Composition, I have found that in Prince William County I have often had to create a ton of assignments and lessons aimed at creating historical and cultural contexts that help students frame what they are reading as classical or modern in relation to many of the key dates in the years corresponding with European exploration of the Western Hemisphere. A lot of those lessons and activities include a variety of shorter and longer texts and multimedia materials that will not be included or really discussed here. What's here is basically a lesson involving Jonathan Edwards' "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" and Langston Hughes' essay "Salvation." 

    On the one hand, Edwards' sermon is a Puritan sermon rooted in seventeenth centuy Protestant Theology, and on the other hand, Hughes' essay is a confession coming to terms with doubt and nonbelief in the twentieth century. The pairing is ill-footed and thefefore possibly perfect. 

    The next section will move through a handful of ideas aiming to promote analysis of these two readings. The sections after that will work through skills related to synthesizing the two and, eventually, how to have students incorporate these sources into some sort of final (or more polished) product. 

    Both texts are attached here. I would highly suggest excerpting the Edwards sermon. I have always looked at my local textbook for what to include (or not include).

     

     

    Jonathan Edwards' "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God"

    Students will probably need context for understanding the Puritans and their tendency towards reawakenings. But, if you wait until later in the school year to interact with this sermon, then students may only need a few activities to remind them what their history teachers have already taught them. 

     

    Pre-reading ideas

    • Have students journal about specific values, beliefs, keywords and their relation to the Puritans.
    • Give students index cards with keywords, values, beliefs on them and have them sort them into a Plymouth category and a Jamestown category.
    • Have students look at and journal in response to paintings and artwork from the English and Dutch worlds (centuries) that preceded the Puritans crossing the Atlantic and estabishing a colony. 
    • Excerpt The Crucible and give an open-ended journal assignment that helps set the table for Edwards' sermon. 

     

    Close reading the sermon 

    • Have students complete an arrangement chart or outline of Edwards' sermon (doing so should help students see the logos in the sermon, which, in many ways, does follow Aristotle's arrangement and therefore can easily be divided into either three or six parts). 
    • Have students focus on Edwards' invention of the sermon (which means students would need to complete some activity that deals with what is oft-referred to as the S.O.A.P.S.Tone information).
    • Have students analyze the style of Edwards' writing. Examine his diction, his syntax, his devices, and tones. 

    How a teacher completes this latter set of bullet points is an individual choice. A great deal of content regarding these strategies is available in textbooks and across the internet. I tend to space out and interleave the five rhetorical canons with both my AP and general education students, so by the end of the year, they are much more flexible with the terms and the activities that accompany each. Being consistent and standardizing how these skills and strategies are taught and implemented throughout the year is key. 

     

    Reading the sermon out loud

    • Play a recording of the sermon.
    • Have students participate in a preach-off. 
    • As the teacher, demonstrate how delivery can alter the tone and mood from section to section. 
    • Ask: does the text dictate the delivery and therefore the tone or is it flexible? 

     

    Langston Hughes' "Salvation"

    Depending on your student population, what the class has read prior in the school year, or the level of the class the degree of context students need for understanding Hughes' essay may differ greatly. 

     

    Pre-reading ideas

    • Have students journal about a time when their individual values did not align with the values of a particular group.
    • Have students explain in a journal what makes something true or real or known. 
    • Have students look at and journal in response to paintings and artwork from the early 20th century as a way of eventually placing Hughes' writing not only within the context of the Harlem Renaissance but within Modernism and Modernist artwork. 

     

    Close reading the essay 

    • Have students complete an arrangement chart or outline of Hughes' essay (doing so should help students see the logos in the essay). 
    • Have students focus on Hughes' invention of the essay (which means students would need to complete some activity that deals with what is oft-referred to as the S.O.A.P.S.Tone information).
    • Have students analyze the style of Hughes' writing. Examine his diction, his syntax, his devices, and tones. (Questions can be generated by completing the following template: Analyze how __________ crafts examples of _________________ in order to ____________________. For example, one could write the following prompt for students: Analyze how Hughes crafts examples of juxtaposition to simulate a sense of the apocalypse for his readers.)
    • You could have students write the prompts analyzing Hughes' style. 
    • Model how to annotate the essay.

    As stated earlier in the section about Edwards' sermon, how a teacher completes this latter set of bullet points is an individual choice. A great deal of content regarding these strategies is available in textbooks and across the internet. I tend to space out and interleave the five rhetorical canons with both my AP and general education students, so by the end of the year, they are much more flexible with the terms and the activities that accompany each. Being consistent and standardizing how these skills and strategies are taught and implemented throughout the year is key. 

     

    Force the dialogue

    Both sources obviously deal with religion and belief. They both therefore deal, in some degree, with the spectrum of certainty and doubt. The following task is an informal way of having students connect readings that they may not otherwise connect. I often have students do such tasks in their journals (or workbooks), but some years I have made handouts that basically do the following.

    • One, I give a synopsis of the themes and subject matter at the top of the handout, although some years I have students write the synopsis, which is always interesting as an exit pass.
    • Two, have students create a dialogue. Instruct the students as to how many exchanges you want and whether they are permitted to paraphrase or must quote directly from the text. (I prefer the latter.) Then have them set up the exchanges:
      • EDWARDS/HUGHES: 
      • EDWARDS/HUGHES: 
      • EDWARDS/HUGHES:
      • EDWARDS/HUGHES:
      • EDWARDS/HUGHES:
      • EDWARDS/HUGHES:
      • EDWARDS/HUGHES:
      • EDWARDS/HUGHES:
    • Keep in mind the dialogue will go better and read better if you limit the number of words students can quote at a time. Edwards' long-windedness, for example, is a conversation killer. 
    • You can also have students practice citing page numbers here. 

     

    Assessing the dialogue

    • I would not over exert myself here. I would star or highlight interesting exchanges. I would write "interesting" or "explore further."
    • I would, depending on where in the year you are, have students do the above for one another.
    • Again, don't stress the content here or whether the dialogue has a true purpose. This should be more like a game (or writing a poem).

    What to do with the dialogue

    • If you're familiar with either the Toulmin approach or ACECon paragraph structure or two-chunk paragraphs. These dialogues are a nice fit. Have students pick the best exchange (as in the most interesting in relation to the shared topic of the texts) in their conversation.
    • The idea here is that the student's argument will grow or emanate from the evidence and backing they have selected. The exchange between Edwards and Hughes should provide them with evidence and backing for their paragraph.
    • Have them write an assumption (general claim or warrant), an assertive claim (assertion), incorporate their evidence, transition to their backing, and finish the paragraph according to the patterns and lessons established earlier in the year.

    Students should have a solid paragraph that will help them see the next task more clearly. 

    Now for the prompt

    The following prompt is from the College Board's 2012 AP Language and Composition Free Response Questions

    Consider the distinct perspectives expressed in the following statements.

    If you develop the absolute sense of certainty that powerful beliefs provide, then you can get yourself to accomplish virtually anything, including those things that other people are certain are impossible.

    William Lyon Phelps, American educator, journalist, and professor (1865–1943)

    I think we ought always to entertain our opinions with some measure of doubt. I shouldn’t wish people dogmatically to believe any philosophy, not even mine.

    Bertrand Russell, British author, mathematician, and philosopher (1872–1970)

    In a well-organized essay, take a position on the relationship between certainty and doubt. Support your argument with appropriate evidence and examples.

     

    This question is a good one because the question is so open-ended. The question also works for both AP and general education students. If general education students have already completed the Hughes-Edwards paragraphs, they will have more access to this prompt than if they were given a cold reading of its subject matter. They may choose not to include the previously written paragraph in their response, but again, they can't claim ignorance about the prompt's subject matter if any of the previous assignments were honestly attempted. 

    Further discussion & supplemental resources

    The College Board prompt included in the previous section doesn't have to be for written responses only. It could be used to generate discussion (Socratic seminar). In preparation for such an activity, a teacher may want to give students additional resources:

    • Chapter Three in Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
    • Joan Didion's "On Morality"
    • Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Letter from a Birmingham Jail
    • Plato's "Allegory of the Cave"
    • Ishmael Beah's A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier
    • Ronald Regan's Challenger Address
    • John F. Kennedy's 1961 Man on the Moon speech
    • Barack Obama's Sandy Hook speech
    • George W. Bush's 9/11 address

     

    These resources all involve crises in faith, the failure of the status quo, experiences that stress and fracture previously held assumptions and logical premises that were founded on values as opposed to lived experience. How teachers and students interact with them will vary depending on students' academic levels and the degree of independence within a classroom. AP teachers may want to have students practice synthesizing the sources in order to take valid and sound positions on given value statements. Then again, anything that AP students are doing general education students should also be doing (just maybe with extended time).