NEA Big Read
Old School

Old School

by Tobias Wolff

There is a need in us for exactly what literature can give, which is a sense of who we are… a sense of the workings of what we used to call the soul.

Teachers may consider the ways in which these activities may be linked to other Big Read community events. Most of these projects could be shared at a local library, a student assembly, or a bookstore.

  1. Show the class a film set at a prep school—A Separate Peace (1972), Dead Poets Society (1989), School Ties (1992), or The Emperor's Club (2002). How does the movie's portrayal of the prep school experience compare with that of the novel?
  2. At the beginning of "On Fire," the narrator tells the story of the Blaine Boys. Are there any interesting stories in your school's history? Research the school's background and make a public presentation of your findings, with illustrations if possible.
  3. Divide the class into three groups and have each group prepare a presentation on one of the three real-life authors who figure in the novel. Each presentation should include biography, photographs and other illustrations, a display of books by the author, and the reading of excerpts from the author's work.
  4. Show your class the 1949 film of The Fountainhead, starring Gary Cooper and Patricia Neal. Following the screening, lead a class discussion to explore how well the movie matches up with the portrayal of Rand in Old School. (Research the degree of Rand's participation in the making of the film and what she thought of the finished product.)
  5. Have a drama day in class. Divide the class into four groups, and have each group prepare and mount a staged version of one of the following: Frost's "Death of the Hired Man," published in North of Boston (1914); Hemingway's "Hills Like White Elephants," published in Men Without Women (1927); a scene from Rand's play Night of January 16th (1934); or the expulsion scene from Old School.
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