(Image courtesy of Hannah Schoenbaum)
Corona del Mar High School

Jazzing up the New Year with 1920s classics

The “Roaring Twenties” were a decade-long party, an era of extravagance and euphoria that encompassed the nation in its entirety. They marked the transition of mind and spirit, as Americans cast their wartime worries aside, in favor of a carefree attitude, wild spirit, and incredibly expensive taste. The ’20s sparked the revival of the American culture that was lost in the First World War, introducing jazz music, modernist literature, and bold fashion to the United States.

Author F. Scott Fitzgerald emerged as one of the most popular writers of his time. His novel, “The Great Gatsby,” was a best seller in the ’20s and an immediate favorite amongst the juniors in Corona del Mar’s (CdM) AP English Language classes.

“I love ‘The Great Gatsby’ because it not only captures the excitement of the 1920s, but it also shows real emotions and the morals of the time,” said junior Jayme Chow.

“The Great Gatsby” exhibits the contrasting philosophies of realist Nick Carraway and idealist Jay Gatsby. It illuminates the ostentatious culture of the twenties and the decline of the American dream in a newly prosperous society, while following Gatsby’s pursuit of his one true love, Daisy Buchanan.

“We all have goals and dreams we wish to achieve, no matter what we will have to do to get there. Gatsby teaches us that it’s okay to dream big and that imagination can take you far,” Chow said.

AP English Language students interpreted the themes of the novel and identified defining characteristics of the time period through the author’s old fashion diction and descriptions of the setting and characters.

Once they discovered the grandeur of Gatsby’s parties, where elegantly dressed guests danced the night away, some students sought to experience a Gatsby party themselves.

Junior Jodi Parker ushered in the New Year Gatsby-style by hosting a 1920s throwback party for her friends and family.

“I’ve always loved ‘The Great Gatsby’ for the crazy luxury and unnecessary fabulousness of it all,” Parker said. “Ever since I moved into a bigger house, I’ve wanted to throw a huge party, and I figured there was no better way to kick off the New Year than with a Gatsby celebration.”

Guests arrived to a fully decorated house, dressed in spiffy suits or classic flapper dresses with feather boas and pearl necklaces. They spent the evening swing dancing to smooth jazz and speaking in ’20s slang, using phrases like “the bee’s knees” and “the cat’s pajamas.”

Students became familiar with these unique phrases in their classes, thanks to a creative activity developed by history teacher Michael Dobyns.

The juniors were separated into groups and given five slang words and their definitions. Their assignment was to create and perform a skit, using all of their assigned vocabulary words. Then, to better explain the definitions of the words, the students would act out their skits again, only this time, they would replace the 1920s slang with modern slang words, commonly used by teenagers. The activity provided students with a better understanding of 1920s terminology and a good laugh.

“I got the idea for this assignment by collaborating with Laura Mayberry and modifying it to fit our class environment,” Dobyns said. “It helped my students understand not only the importance of slang, but the influence it had on the 1920s and still has today. Imagine what people will say when they hear ‘mobin,’ ‘turnt,’ and ‘bae’ in the future!”

Another unique activity Dobyns planned for his students was a 1920s poetry slam. He dimmed the lights, covered clusters of desks with tablecloths, and filled the room with food, transforming his class into a coffee lounge. Students took turns reciting both famous poems from the twenties and some original pieces.

“There are so many talented students at CdM, and this gave them the opportunity to express something in their lives or take interest in someone else’s work. A lot can be learned about history through poetry, but the arts often get left out of history classes. The poetry slam was my way of bringing that rich 1920s culture back into the classroom,” Dobyns said.

“I really enjoyed this activity because it allowed us to connect with the time period and understand what we were learning,” said junior Nathan Fallahi.

The creative culture of the 1920s sparked an interest in the junior class as whole, fostering a more inclusive and enjoyable learning environment.

“I think the way people in the twenties enjoyed themselves and never stopped to worry about the future is appealing to kids our age because, as juniors, all we can do is think about our plans for the future. We all secretly want to forget it all and just dance the night away, which is why I think so many kids in our grade have taken a liking to this unit,” Parker said.

Students have brought the joy of the twenties back to CdM, paving the way for a brighter 2016.