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Canterbury Tales in a Christian Co-Op

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I am hoping this board can provide some guidance for me. I'm teaching a high school level British Literature co-op class this coming fall. It will be my first time teaching high school level other than to my own children. I do have my degree in English, not that necessarily matters. I have marked the class for Juniors and Seniors, although in this particular co-op, any high school level can register. I know that as of this point most of the kids enrolled are incoming freshmen.


I am planning on making it a broad survey course, and some of the texts I plan on using include Seamus Heaney's Beowulf, selected tales of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales (prologue in the Middle English, and a modern verse translation for the tales), Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, Shakespeare's Macbeth, and several short stories and poems as time permits. The scope of the class will be literary analysis with some papers written, but it is not an honors course (I wasn't feeling ambitious enough at this stage to increase the level to that mark).


I am having difficulties with the Canterbury Tales. I read them as a high school senior myself, but many of the tales are rather risque, and I am wondering how others who have taught the course to younger high school students have dealt with the material. I should clarify that the co-op is very Christian in its focus. I, myself, would have tackled some of the more salacious tales with my son, because I feel that they are relevant to the understanding of human "frailty," but I know for a fact that some of the parents will not want their children encountering some of the tales. Tentatively I've scheduled the Knight's Tale, and the Wife of Bath's Tale, and am definitely excluding the Miller's Tale. None of these stories is exactly "pure," but isn't that how life is much of the time?


Ultimately the course materials are up to my discretion, but I want to be sensitive to parents' concerns while still reading, discussing, and analyzing this wonderful collection. I really don't want to skip it; it's just too important!


So, has anyone got any experience in discussing this book with younger high school students? I really don't want to go with a sanitized version. How did you teach it? What tales did you cover?

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What do you know about this co-op going in?  How long has it existed?  Have your kids attended in the past?  Do you know the families? Co-ops can be very frustrating to teach, because rarely do all the families involved have the same expectations going in re: rigor, amount of effort, frequency of attendance, writing requirements, etc.  I suspect problems with these issues may trump worldview related problems, and I'd certainly want to understand them before agreeing to teach.


While you may nominally have carte blanche for the syllabus, ultimately, the decision to continue attending class (and thus the existence of the class) is up to the students and the parents.

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Wow -- I *may* be doing a very similar class for a Christian co-op, by adding Medieval lit. to a year-long study of the Lord of the Rings trilogy; I had thought to include Beowulf, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, 3-4 of the Canterbury Tales, and Macbeth, plus some poetry, and a few short stories by Tolkien.



When DSs and I did British Lit., we just did excerpts from Canterbury Tales:

- General Prologue: Introduction 

- individual prologue and epilogue for each of the selected tales

- 4 tales

- Chaucer's Retraction (epilogue to the Canterbury Tales)


Tales we did that would work for a conservative co-op class:

- The Knight's Tale — honor, courtly high love, and noble actions; feels a bit like an ancient Greek epic

- The Pardoner's Tale — moral tale of 3 prideful men who go looking for Death, and find him

- The Nun's Priest's Tale — famous fable of Chaunticleer the Rooster and the Fox


Many of the tales are meant to be read as pairs or as a series of commentaries on one another, with each commenting on or showing a different side of the same topic, so, when possible, it is very helpful to read the pair or series of stories that "work together". The analysis paragraph on each tale in Cliff's Notes cut right to the heart of what is going on in each story and how one tale is commenting on another.


Example: the Knight's Tale is somewhat similar to ancient Greek epic heroes, and is about courtly high love and noble actions. In contrast, it is followed by the Miller's Tale, a bawdy tale of a foolish & jealous Carpenter who is cheated on by his young wife, and there is ensuing slapstick of a rude nature. In turn, the bawdy Miller's Tale is followed by the coarse Reeve's Tale, as a "payback", since the reeve once worked as a carpenter, so to "pay back" the Miller's Tale, the Reeve's Tale features a miller in which both the miller's wife and daughter are (unwittingly) seduced.


And through all three, Chaucer reveals a variety of attitudes and social mores about those topics. NOT at all suggesting you need to do all three in that particular case, esp. with Christian families who may not want to go there. ;) Other tales that are more "clean":


Three that "go together" and discuss aspects of law and loyalty to word — OR, just pick one:

- Man of Law's Tale = Constance, the faithful wife

- Wife of Bath's Tale = a knight of King Arthur and the Loathly Lady -- PREVIEW, as the knight forcibly takes a virgin maid at story's open, which is why he ends up in the position in the story that he does; also some earthy comments and suggestive language from the Wife in her prologue (but this could also lead to interesting compare/contrast with Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, if you do that work of medieval lit., too)

- Friar's Tale = a blackmailing swindler gets his come-uppance (similar to Pardoner's Tale)


One that might fit with those three above, but very easily stands on it's own:

- Franklin's Tale = how to resolve when your vows and promises to various people conflict


A longer, 2-part tale:

- Canon's Yeoman's Tale — greed, and the consequences


To avoid bawdiness, you would likely prefer to NOT do:

- Cook's Tale

- Clerk's Tale

- Merchant's Tale

- Miller's Tale

- Reeve's Tale


Some past threads that may be of help in selecting tales, and in ideas for teaching the tales:

Canterbury Tales selections and Shakespeare selection help

Is Canterbury Tales worth teaching?

Which Canterbury Tales to read?

Canterbury Tales

Teaching the Canterbury Tales

Memorizing the Prologue to the Canterbury Tales



And, do post again later when you've formalized your plan -- I'd love to glean from what you'll be doing, in case I end up doing a similar class! If I do, I will likely go with:

- Knight's Tale

- Pardoner's Tale

- Nun's Priest's Tale

- Wife of Bath's Tale -- OR -- Franklin's Tale


  ;) Warmest regards, Lori D.


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I really appreciate the specific links to prior posts. I will be checking them out.  I did try to isolate some before I asked, but wasn't able to find anything related to what I was asking about. I am aware of the Wife of Bath's nuances, and how it is a little questionable. I may skip it for that reason, but I do enjoy the questions about world view that it generates. I will definitely be doing the Pardoner's Tale and a few more still to be determined after I look through the ones suggested. Again, I so appreciate the prior experience!


I will be writing this curriculum sort of on the fly. I'm using Windows to the World as my framework (with Jill Pike's syllabus as a guide) but will be essentially reworking the entire piece to reflect a British Lit emphasis. It is going to take a fair amount of work, and I will be refining it over the summer. So far, I've only written about six weeks of the 31 week syllabus.


And yes, I am very cautious about the co-op lifestyle in general. I somehow have managed to avoid any academic co-op (our family was involved in a "play" type of co-op in the past) up until my oldest was ready to begin dual enrollment. My middle child, however, is ready to begin biology next year. I taught it once and hated it. Also, my middle child is very social and wants to spend some time with a few more kids, so I decided we would try one year out. I have one friend who is a co-leader of the entire co-op, and it is a fairly small one, so I'm hopeful all will work out. I have attended a few sessions to get the lay of the land. Ultimately the parent is the one who decides final grade and level of participation. My two youngest will be taking science, writing, and speech or drama and that's is. My middle child will be in this class I'm teaching as well, so I am hopeful all will turn out well. If not, we won't repeat the experience, but as a teacher, I am committed for the entire year.

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I'd love to hear more about how you are using WttW with Brit lit. I have the WttW materials and plan to use them this year.


I'm walking a somewhat similar line with the Classical mythology class I'm teaching in our co-op this year. It's a secular co-op, so we don't tend to the ultra-conservative end of homeschoolers in general, and I'm using a text designed for middle and high school ("Classical Mythology and More" by Colakis), but it isn't the sanitized D'Aulaire's-type versions of the myths and the book does use Classical art (vases, paintings, statuary) in the book, so there is some nudity in that context. For instance, it doesn't skirt the origin story of Aphrodite. I've listed the class as for high school with a note that it includes mature themes, but it's possible I may have some middle schoolers. 

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I've taught a couple coop lit classes. I tried to be as specific as possible about the works we'd be using.


I'll also say that I was pleasantly surprised. My first year one board member was concerned when I mentioned Harry Potter in my description. We weren't reading it but I had considered using examples from it for demonstrating aspects of plot and characterization. But it was optional so I took it out of the discription. Turns out most of the class had read the whole series and cheerfully used it in their own examples.


I had kids who didn't read non required books at all and others who were reading A Helmet for my Pillow and Les Miserables.

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