HAMILTON, the Mentor Text

THE NEW YOU

Image via hamiltonbroadway.com

So I’ve been thinking a lot about Hamilton. And by thinking, I mean obsessing. One morning, I was awakened at 4:00 AM by my loving and lively four-year-old, and after some time of trying to fall back into a peaceful summer slumber, the state in which she now rested, I gave in to the sunlight and began my day. My day was to consist of hard-core housecleaning and home organization, the latter, my least favorite of all the tasks on the to-do list.

My husband and children slept on, and I found myself with a few hours of quiet solitude. So, I plugged in my ear buds and got to cleaning. My playlist? The Hamilton soundtrack in its entirety – front to back, top to bottom, in order.

Besides being moved to tears more than once, I felt the way I feel when I’m reading something good, something rare, something special. Like when I read East of Eden last summer after dodging it all those years, or the first time I ever read “The Circus Animals’ Desertion” or a William Trevor story. Just sheer force and beauty, so mindblowingly beautiful you can only stand back and watch, slack jawed.

I’m sure you’ve read or seen the many Teaching Hamilton resources. Megan wrote about using Hamilton here on Moving Writers in the spring. And there are some other great ones out there – this one from The Teaching Channel, this from The New York Times learning blog, and this, especially this, from Atlantic Records and Genius.com which includes complete annotations for each and every song. How fascinating that this musical, this story, can now be a part of our classrooms and our students’ learning experiences. How novel and engaging, how exciting and challenging. To borrow a phrase, “How lucky we are to be alive right now” as educators, when hip-hop, history, and story-telling are so readily available and seamlessly blended.

Take for example the opening track: Alexander Hamilton.

The song opens with Aaron Burr’s character posing the overarching question of the play:

“How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore and a

Scotsman, dropped in the middle of a forgotten

Spot in the Caribbean by Providence, impoverished, in squalor

Grow up to be a hero and a scholar?”

 The lyrics continue, with several characters (who also happen to be important historical figures) delivering lines:

JOHN LAURENS:

The ten-dollar Founding Father without a father

Got a lot farther by workin’ a lot harder

By bein’ a lot smarter

By bein’ a self-starter

By fourteen, they placed him in charge of a trading charter

 THOMAS JEFFERSON:

And every day while slaves were being slaughtered and carted

Away across the waves, he struggled and kept his guard up

Inside, he was longing for something to be a part of

The brother was ready to beg, steal, borrow, or barter

JAMES MADISON:

Then a hurricane came, and devastation reigned

Our man saw his future drip, drippin’ down the drain

Put a pencil to his temple, connected it to his brain

And he wrote his first refrain, a testament to his pain

BURR:

Well the word got around, they said, “This kid is insane, man!”

Took up a collection just to send him to the mainland

“Get your education, don’t forget from whence you came, and

The world’s gonna know your name! What’s your name, man?”

ALEXANDER HAMILTON:

Alexander Hamilton

My name is Alexander Hamilton

And there’s a million things I haven’t done

But just you wait, just you wait

ELIZA HAMILTON:

When he was ten, his father split, full of it, debt-ridden

Two years later, see Alex and his mother, bed-ridden

Half-dead, sittin’ in their own sick

The scent thick

COMPANY:

And Alex got better but his mother went quick

 GEORGE WASHINGTON and (COMPANY):

Moved in with a cousin, the cousin committed suicide

Left him with nothin’ but ruined pride, somethin’ new inside

A voice saying “(Alex) you gotta fend for yourself”

He started retreatin’ and readin’ every treatise on the shelf

BURR and (COMPANY):

There would’ve been nothin’ left to do

For someone less astute

He would’ve been dead or destitute

Without a cent of restitution

Started workin’, clerkin’ for his late mother’s landlord

Tradin’ sugar cane and rum and other things he can’t afford

(Scammin’) for every book he can get his hands on

(Plannin’) for the future, see him now as he stands on

The bow of a ship headed for a new land

In New York you can be a new man

COMPANY and (HAMILTON):

In New York you can be a new man (Just you wait)

In New York you can be a new man (Just you wait)

In New York you can be a new man

WOMEN:

In New York

MEN:

New York

 HAMILTON:

Just you wait

COMPANY and (COMPANY):

Alexander Hamilton (Alexander Hamilton)

We are waiting in the wings for you (waiting in the wings for you)

You could never back down

You never learned to take your time

Oh, Alexander Hamilton (Alexander Hamilton)

When America sings for you

Will they know what you overcame?

Will they know you rewrote the game?

The world will never be the same, oh

BURR and (COMPANY):

The ship is in the harbor now, see if you can spot him

(Just you wait)

Another immigrant comin’ up from the bottom

(Just you wait)

His enemies destroyed his rep, America forgot him

MULLIGAN/MADISON AND LAFAYETTE/JEFFERSON:

We fought with him

LAURENS/PHILLIP:

Me? I died for him

WASHINGTON:

Me? I trusted him

ANGELICA SCHUYLER, ELIZA, MARIA REYNOLDS:

Me? I loved him

 BURR:

And me? I’m the damn fool that shot him

COMPANY:

There’s a million things I haven’t done

But just you wait

BURR:

What’s your name, man?

HAMILTON & COMPANY:

Alexander Hamilton!

 

As an AP Literature teacher, I’m constantly searching for unique ways into reading and writing about literature. Although it seems “there’s a million things” we could use for classroom instruction here in this first song, for my money, the song Alexander Hamilton serves as an excellent mentor text for writing about a novel’s (or any text’s) critical information and context. It perfectly and succinctly catches the audience up to speed on the first 19 years of Alexander Hamilton’s life, all while establishing themes, revealing character, and foreshadowing future conflicts in the story.

The musical functions as an answer to the question Burr initially poses. How did this unlikely immigrant become one of our country’s most important Founding Fathers?

As a fun and challenging end-novel assessment for this upcoming school-year, I’m going to have students create their own “Alexander Hamilton.” Students will, of course, need to model closely from the original, being careful of rhythm, rhyme, and form.

Here are some sample directions for students:

Your task: Create your own Alexander Hamilton song for any character from the novel we’re studying.

  • Choose a character from the novel we’ve been studying.
  • Identify an overarching question for the character that the novel provides the answer to. For example, this for The Cather in the Rye:

How does a prep-schooled, downer, brother of a kid-forgotten and a writer,

dropped in the middle of a well-trodden spot in New York City,

confused and bemused, grow up to be a symbol and martyr?

  • Determine the critical information from the novel that establishes character and theme.
  • Modeling closely from “Alexander Hamilton”, create a song or rhyming narrative poem that provides your audience with the most crucial information about the character you chose.

You should…

– Begin with the end in mind. (Like Burr’s, “I’m the damn fool who shot him.”)

– Make intentional choices about what characters deliver which lines.

– Have some fun with language, rhythm, and rhyme.

– Include the most prominent features of the song’s form.

– Create a catch phrase and refrain like “there’s a million things I haven’t done/just you wait” for the character you chose.

Besides getting a serious mental workout and having a little fun…

Continue reading

Mentor Text Wednesday: On Rey

MentorTextWednesday

Mentor Text:  

The Power of Rey by Nicole Sperling

What Rey Means to Me by Gabrielle Bondi

What is a Mary Sue, and does Star Wars: The Force Awakens have one? by Caroline Framke

Writing Techniques:

  • Character analysis
  • Pop culture analysis
  • Using a feminist lens to critique character and pop culture

Background:

I got two Christmases in 2015. There was the one we always get, and there there was the Star Wars one. I’m one of those people who was at the perfect age to have seen the original film as a very impressionable youngster, and grew up with those characters, reading an Expanded Universe of tales in that galaxy far, far away. I was brought up so high by hope for the prequels, and disappointed.So, The Force Awakens was obviously kind of a big deal for me.

And it put me into a bit of a social media cave, as I tried to avoid spoilers so I could enjoy the film to the max. And I did.

I have daughters, and though their exposure to Star Wars has been limited, I was excited when the initial rumblings of the presence of Meaningful Female Characters! Leia was one of the strongest female chracters in popular sci-fi, but there was always something lacking. Probably the negative effects of that bikini at Jabba’s palace. Growing up with arguably some of the greatest characters in pop culture, I wanted that for my girls.

Screen Shot 2016-01-08 at 9.49.11 AMI’m not the only one to feel this way. After seeing the film, I was able to click on a lot more around the web, and came across a lot of writing about Rey. Some gushes, some criticizes. I chose a bit of both in this mentor text packet.

“The Power of Rey” and “What Rey Means to Me” are built on praise, on finding a hero that speaks to you, specifically a female hero. For many, Rey breaks into the boy’s club of good action heroics without a love triangle or a focus on her sex appeal. These pieces deal with that, though they largely avoid the controversy that accompanies the conversation about Rey. What I like about them, and what students could use as inspiration is that they are written from a fan’s position. This is people sharing what they like about Rey, and why. There’s an element of personal narrative that justifies their appreciation of Rey.

The “Mary Sue” question is dealt with in the third article. In some ways, it may be the strongest appreciation of Rey as a gender barrier breaker since it goes into more depth discussion of the gender stereotypes, explaining what a Mary Sue is, and supporting both sides of the argument. Though ultimately, the piece decides that Rey is what the other two pieces would have you believe, it goes about it in a much more analytical fashion.

I specifically chose not to include pieces that were overtly critical of her character. That is, I chose not include them at this time. I feel like those pieces serve a different purpose, and would be a mentor text package of their own, a critical takedown of a character if you will. To me, praising a character and bashing a chracter are two separate skill sets, and could be taught as such. Now I have more mentor texts to find…

How We Might Use Them:

  • All three of these pieces give strong examples of discussing character, and what the writer likes about the character. Two hew closer to expression of fandom, while one presents a more analytical appreciation of the character.
  • The narrative style of “The Power of Rey” would give young writers a way to express themselves as part of their writing about character. As a geek, I know how all-encompassing this stuff can be. The whole experience feels like it needs to be discussed, not just the character analysis stuff your teacher wants from you. This piece shows students a way to do both.
  • “What Rey Means to Me” is a compilation of what different voices have to say about a single character. Sometimes, we teachers make a big task out of something smaller. Could students craft mini-pieces, like those in this piece, and then combine them? Consider as well, that this piece gives a variety of voices expressing similar ideas. It’s a collection of shorter mentor texts compiled, giving students options.
  • The Mary Sue piece would be a great mentor text for students to use in the course of discussing a controversial issue in pop culture, such as gender. Working with young people, we know that they have many questions and opinions to sift through and figure out. This piece lays it out very well for them, with background, point, counterpoint and conclusion.
  • Pop culture has been heavily influenced by Star Wars, and our students, if they’re fans, are accustomed to critically looking at their respective fandoms, these giant worlds of characters. These pieces are all examples of how to look at pop culture with a feminist, or gender lens. Could we not extrapolate that, and use these as mentor texts to look at pop culture through other lenses? Or our reading?

I use Star Wars to teach. Students know that I love it, and other fandoms, and they like to talk about this geeky stuff with me. Pieces like this are going to be useful in taking that interest into an academic realm, where we can geek out, and meet our outcomes. And, for my students who aren’t geeks, they also serve as great examples of how to do that character stuff I ask them to do with their reading.

Are your students into Star Wars? How might you use these pieces to help your students analyze and write about character? What other elements might these mentor texts teach? 

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