Thursday, March 12, 2015

Jon Krakauer's Into the Wild in the English Classroom

As English teachers review the Common Core standards and consider the increased expectation for the study of non-fiction - especially at the high school level - many will struggle for how to expand their lessons and curriculum.  However, English teachers must face the facts that once students reach college, the whopping majority of texts the kids read will be non-fiction.  And so many of them are in areas with a business or sociological slant.  That is why our English department started adding non-fiction texts a few years ago.

One of our more successful choices, which is the summer reading assignment for our CP English 11 juniors, has been Jon Krakauer's Into the Wild.  ITW is a book-length account of the story of Chris McCandless, a young man who adventured in to the Alaskan wilderness, and whose body was discovered months later, the victim of some poor decisions or some very bad luck.  Krakauer's book grew out of a feature he wrote for Outside Magazine - a story which touched a nerve and set off an explosion of letters, both praising and criticizing McCandless and Krakauer.  In fact, it generated the most mail of any Outside story ever.

The book is an engaging narrative which recounts the story of young Chris and delves deep into his motivations, while also exploring other accounts of adventure and "mis-adventure" through history.  Krakauer has done some amazing research, and his book dovetails well with many fictional works studied in high school, from Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to The Catcher in the Rye.  It's certainly worth checking out and considering as an addition to high school curricula.

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