Sunday, January 25, 2015

Coehlo's The Alchemist & The Alchemist Project

Paulo Coehlo's The Alchemist is the perfect "self-help" book for high school students because it comes in the form of a readable parable, and the narrative helps to disguise the preachy nature of many books designed to help teens find themselves and find their way in the world.  However, it's not enough to simply read and discuss the book - teachers need to craft activities and tasks around the ideas of the book which engage the students in their own journey and quest for their personal legend.  Thus, in continuing my explanation of my "Alchemist Project," I always show a truly engaging TED talk, featuring Mike Rowe of the Discovery Channel's "Dirty Jobs."

Rowe has some fascinating bits of advice and insight for students.  Most importantly, he ponders the idea that "following your passion" might be the worst advice he ever got.  That fits well with my previous story of Sarah Marshall - the girl from The Ambitious Generation who was adept at getting into college, but not so adept at figuring out why she was going in the first place.  I advise my students that in Rowe's view "Some people should follow their passion, some should follow their skills, and some should just follow the market."  This video always has a significant impact on students.  And I ask them to journal and comment on Rowe's ideas in relation to their own search.

Other ideas come from David Brooks and his op-ed on institutional thinking called "What Life Asks of Us."  I ask students to honestly answer some tough questions meant to elicit some serious self-examination, for the goal of this book and this project is for students to figure out, not what they want to do, but who they really are.  I ask them to journal again after reading another Robert Fulghum essay about a girl who was "sitting on her ticket."  It always has a way of motivating them to think critically.  And, perhaps the most interesting and engaging of the tasks is for students to complete an extensive analysis of their "Imaginary Lives."  It gives them a chance to dream and wonder, and ultimately try to see themselves in a future.

I always conclude our unit by showing them a short clip of Randy Pausch, the man known for his Last Lecture.  The book and entire video are great - but if you want to limit the time, he gave a great short version of his speech on Oprah.  It is definitely worth the discussion and coincides well with the story of The Alchemist.  While Coehlo's book says "The universe conspires to help you achieve your personal legend," Randy Pausch posits "If you are living correctly, your dreams will come to you."

Ultimately, The Alchemist is a meaningful book for high school juniors or seniors.  I think any year before that is too young and too early.  Students sometimes dismiss the book as a little cheesy - and it probably is.  But even the most hardened student finds something useful in our Alchemist Project.


Chattin' said...

So very helpful. Thank you so much!

Unknown said...

Hi Michael! Thanks for explaining and linking these videos! Do you have an outline of your Alchemist project? I tried clicking on the hyperlink "my explanation" but - alas - the post no longer exists. Thanks!

Unknown said...

I would love love love a copy of this project too!!! I am starting the Alchemist with my seniors soon

Lisa said...

If you have a copy of this project available I would love to look at it for my students next year.