Cory Duclos Shares Lessons from Teaching Don Quixote to Middle-Schoolers

Director of the Keck Center for Language Study Cory Duclos recently spoke about his summer experience teaching Don Quixote to middle schoolers. The talk is part of the regularly occurring Arts and Humanities Colloquium, which convenes every Tuesday at 5 p.m. and hosts a range of professors and faculty members from across departments. 

Duclos’ talk, entitled “Conscientious Consumerism and the Next Generation of Students: What I Learned from Reading Don Quixote with a Group of Middle Schoolers” was introduced by David McCabe, Director of Colgate’s Division of Arts and Humanities. Duclos, who holds a Ph.D. in Spanish from Vanderbilt University, has worked at Colgate since 2014 and during his time here has taught in the CORE program as well as in Spanish and Portuguese language studies. 

Don Quixote, a 17th-century Spanish novel written by Miguel de Cervantes and the subject of Duclos’ talk, is often counted among the founding works of western literature and considered by some to be the first modern novel. The novel centers around the eponymous Don Quixote, a Spanish knight enamored by literature and portrayals of chivalry to the point of madness. The novel itself plays across several genres, including parody and psychological fiction. 

Duclos started off his presentation by explaining that his idea to teach Don Quixote to middle schoolers was inspired by a friend’s experience teaching the book to prisoners. 

“What’s more similar to prisoners than middle schoolers in quarantine for the summer?” Duclos quipped. 

Duclos noted that in the midst of the chaos spawned by the pandemic, engaging with Don Quixote during daily zoom calls was a way for both the students and himself to escape from the real world into the world of fiction. While acknowledging that Don Quixote can at points read as verbose and dense, especially for younger readers, Duclos was pleased to discover that the students were not only able to keep up with the text, but also were able to contribute unique perspectives that older generations might not have considered. 

“The things that stood out to them were very different than the things that stood out to me when I read it for the first time. It was nice to see that books still have the power to engage kids … it really was the thing that kept us sane in a summer where a lot of things could have gone wrong,” Duclos commented. 

One of the ways in which Duclos made the novel more easily accessible to young students was by humanizing Quixote, likening him to the modern-day equivalent of a Star Wars superfan. Duclos describes the central figure of the novel as having an obsession with literature and fiction to the point where he becomes almost like a writer of fanfiction. By putting aspects of the novel in terms of equivalent modern phenomena, Duclos helped students more fully understand the nuances and relate to the text. This allowed for an understanding of deeper questions, like how one reacts to media, how cultures prioritize certain stories and how canonical works are interpreted historically versus in the modern age.

“Overall, Cory Duclos’ talk reminded me of the importance of being exposed to different cultures and learning about different cultures, especially from a young age,” first-year attendee Sara Garcia said. “I thought it was fantastic that Duclos worked through reading Don Quixote with middle schoolers. Although it was not always easy for them to get through, I think it was very beneficial for them.”