Yes, once again, it was the Bradbury Slam to end the winter quarter. All the 8th grade students have just finished reading Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 and they were asked to write a short story in the style of Bradbury. The students in each classroom then selected their top three favorites and those top three from each of the different 8th grade Humanities classrooms met to share their slams with the rest of the grade. This event is always marked with a lot of energy and enthusiasm with the students totally supporting all the participants who are reading.
While reading the novel itself, many of the students were weirded out and confused by Bradbury’s language— his repetitions, his wild metaphors (which made it hard for some of them to figure out what he was talking about), his run-on sentences, his alliteration and anaphora and onomatopoeia (we teachers love this), his invented words (we made some up too), some of his vocabulary, his paradoxes, his “random” counting, and all those allusions. This was a book that really required some work to fully understand. Some students enjoyed that work; some were a bit stressed by it. All of them admitted they had never read an author quite like Bradbury.
But the Bradbury Slam provided an opportunity for all the students to either vent their frustration or luxuriate in his style. And the very act of forcing themselves to write like him opened them up to all sorts of literary possibilities toward which they may never have allowed themselves to stretch. This year boasted a Bradburyesque description of taking the Constitution test (“One Preamble. Two Article I. Three The Bill of Rights.”), a futuristic world where a person’s job was to be the plank of the floor to be stepped on by “The Oligarch.” There was the parody of Bradbury told through the progress of a Monopoly game, another in the dark stream of consciousness of a troubled youth, and another which began, “It was a pleasure to shop.”
If nothing else, the Slam helped to make Bradbury a critical part of our 8th grade culture. One of my students gave me a gift of granola he had made and signed it in alliterative language including a quote from Fahrenheit where Bradbury himself was most alliterative. Whenever anyone asks me a question about something they can or cannot do, someone in the room will always shout, “If they give your ruled paper, write the other way.” There is always at least one student who will hand in an assignment in landscape format (and I suspect that will go on for the rest of the year).
Yes. Bradbury is fully integrated and very much alive inside the hearts and minds of 130 eighth graders, more than ready for winter break, on the south side of Chicago.