Creating an Educational Alliance: GMU New Media Group in English and Oakton High School Faculty

The New Media Group in English at George Mason University has also done non-new media work. Last semester, through the effort of Deborah Kaplan working with Oakton High School teacher Erica Jacobs -- GMU English faculty held a session on contemporary novels for Oakton High high school students. Hans Bergmann, David Kaufmann, and Marilyn McKenzie made presentations on Cormac McCarthy's All the Pretty Horses, Gish Jen's Mona in the Promised Land, and Toni Morrison's Beloved, and then Deborah Kaplan and Devon Hodges joined them to go out into individual Oakton classrooms to discuss the novels directly with the students.

[With permission from the Oakton Outlook,
sections of following text were excerpted from an article by Jeremy Stahl.]

r. Levi Folly, Dr. Erica Jacobs, and members of George Mason University's New Media Group in English recently convened a panel of GMU Faculty to discuss three highly acclaimed modern novels with Oakton students. The theme of the panel was "Growing Up American." The forum was the result of months of planning and preparation by a team of Oakton and Mason professors and administrators, who started the program in the hopes of creating an alliance between the two Fairfax-based schools. Dr. Don Humbertson, the head of language arts for Fairfax County, was also involved in bringing the two schools together.

  Listen to Panelist Professor Marilyn McKenzie

Listen to Panelist Professor Hans Bergmann

Listen to Panelist Professor David Kaufmann

Read a Student Response to the Panel
Oakton High School seniors chat with GMU Professor Zofia Burr    

The discussion panel was an afternoon special regarding three books that high school students would not normally read. The books included Toni Morrison's Beloved, Gish Jen's Mona in the Promised Land, and Cormac McCarthy's All the Pretty Horses. The format was designed to replicate college level courses and discussion groups.

There were questions regarding inappropriate material in Beloved and Mona and the Promised Land, so the students and their parents were given choices about which of the books the students would read. "I would be reluctant to require that everyone read these two books, but I think giving students the choice and knowledge on the two books was a good idea," commented Jacobs on the concern that these titles had "adult content." "I'm glad that we let the decision rest with them." All the Pretty Horses is more like a PG rated book," she added, and it has in fact been turned into a movie staring Matt Damon.

Jacobs thanked Principal Charles Ostlund for his support and also said that the group was fortunate to have the help of George Mason University CAS Dean's Office which helped purchase the 125 copies of the books that the students used, as these were books not previously offered at Oakton.

Professors David Kaufman (left) and Marilyn McKenzie (right) discuss the panel with an Oakton Senior.