Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Giver, Special Ed.(ition) Part 1

Oh, no. It's back. The collar-tugging-ly uncomfortable novel by Lois Lowry that reads like a kids movie with an R rating.

Why we chose to re-adopt into our curriculum a book which is often banned in middle schools, I'm not so sure. I mean, I'm all for a controversial text if it challenges students' perceptions of the status quo. But, it makes it really difficult to develop skills of literary analysis when the students are laughing nervously over the portrayal of a world where the "Stirrings"--in other words of pubescent children are suppressed with a daily pill. (Gosh, that was tough to even write.) My students have enough deviant thoughts already planted in their head without the notion of volunteer twelve-year-olds required to sponge bathe and towel dry naked elderly people. (Heck, I don't think I need the notion planted in my head.)

Still, there are some redeeming qualities of this unit. Such a twisted tale is guaranteed to engage the students. I love witnessing their shock and awe at the horrors of a supposed utopian society--one so uniform and regulated that any diversity, creativity, or passion has been virtually sucked dry from its inhabitants. At the time of its inception-1993-the aversion to such political structures was the hot topic.

My hope was to masterfully lead the students to the understanding that this story is a commentary on real-life societies with similar attributes and then bask in their collective gasp of amazement of what goes on beyond the borders of their comfy, cosy lives. Unfortunately, I didn't know who all I was dealing with.

Harry is new to the school, and has revealed himself to be quite the old soul. During a fiery meltdown with one of the aides, he expressed his distaste for the netbooks assigned to every student, by screaming: "What kind of a**-backwards school is this?! Why don't they let us use paper and pencils like everybody else?!"

When he joined my English class a few weeks I should have figured, then, that he would have plenty of old-soul wisdom to impart. After remaining silent and generally unparticipative through the first few chapters, I believe it may have been the mention of everyone in the community wearing the same, neutral colored tunic, that set Harry off in a good-natured, yet very similar fashion to his previous outburst.

"What kind of place is this?!" he began. "Soviet Russia, or something?!"

Though I pretended to remain unfazed, inwardly, my jaw hit the floor. I just had my first real education on communism from Eastern Europe tour this past summer, and I had a twelve-year-old intuiting mention of a political regime that ended more than a decade before he was born.

"Yeah, Harry. It pretty much is."

And here I thought I wasn't getting a student teacher until next spring...

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