Analyzing the magical reality… of Chile!

Alzar School | 01.11.13

We’ve made it down to Chile and are back into the swing of classes in Buchupureo, a sleepy beach town. Students wrapped up our Unit 2 through writing multiple drafts of an Argumentative Essay which answered the prompt: Is Chris McCandless’ character heroic or foolish? In this assignment, students applied their experience on expeditions and their discussions debating the protagonist of Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild’s character to compose an effective argument. Students synthesized lessons on how to write a succinct, effective thesis, supported by well-integrated, well-explained evidence.  We now take these same lessons and apply them to analytical writing on another place-based topic: Magical Realism.

Magical realism is a Latin American literary tradition that sought to illustrate a reality in which anything was possible. This mentality grew out of cultures who found meaning in spirituality and legend more than scientific fact, whose political history was unstable – leaving citizens feeling like their lives were out of their control, and whose culture and geography were so diverse that a simple description of place wouldn’t do justice to the true scope of grandeur. As any student could now tell you, some of the genre’s principle characteristics include a protagonist with fantastic attributes, a highly detailed setting invaded by an element of the strange or surreal, and a reliable tone of narrator.

We’ve spent the week analyzing these elements of magical realism in short stories by Latin American authors from Jorge Luis Borges to Gabriel García Marquez. These works feature fantastic stories about “the handsomest drowned man in the world,” a young paralyzed man with photographic memory, and an introvert who accidentally switches places with an “axolotl” (Mexican aquatic salamander). Authors use these bizarre events and incredible characters to get at more universal issues of community, identity, and memory vs. imagination. Not only does this genre provide us with yet another lens through which to analyze our new surroundings (in Chile) but the complexities of surreality in these stories challenge students to deduce the greater meaning (or “theme”) of each work – a skill tested for on standardized tests and developed more fully in college seminars. I’ve been impressed in Harkness discussions by students’ ability to dig into abstraction and support their hypothesized themes with textual evidence.

photo 1 (1)Today we move on to make our way south. We head to the town of Choshuenco where we will switch gears and embark on our cultural biographies project. In this interdisciplinary assignment, students will interview a Chilean townsperson in Choshuenco and translate a biography. We will then translate our own biographies into Spanish. We are hoping to bring the community together to share our stories and celebrate our students’ work the last Thursday in town. The adventure continues!

Yours in place-based integrative education,

Ellie Moore