Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Giver, Special Ed.(ition) II

Despite the bizarre-o nature of "The Giver", one thing I enjoy about teaching it is the surprising application points. I love seeing the students freak out trying to grapple with a world of incomprehensible rules and limitations. They just refuse to accept such a society could ever exist, and the struggle keeps them constantly engaged in the story.

The injustices of the main character--Jonas's--hyper-controlled and ruthless society make the kids a little bit more grateful for the freedoms they experience, as well as how easily they get off the hook for mistakes or misbehavior. It's also an underhanded way for me to dig at them about the implications of their anti-social/defiant behaviors. In Jonas's world, so much as missing a homework assignment would be a serious offense, and those who intentionally commit crimes are released--or excommunicated--from the community. On more than one occasion, I've all but directly stated that were these students part of that alternative reality, they would have been booted years ago.

Harsh, Ms. T!, I'm sure you're thinking. But, it's only fact--a fact that even they have owned up to.

In The Giver citizens of the community do not choose their jobs. Rather, they are assigned by the Committee of Elders who decide the career path of each person by observing him or her from a young age to determine demeanor and aptitude. Children are assigned their jobs and begin vocational training at the age of 12, and they are destined for a lifetime under that assignment until old age. I used this concept in the novel as a platform to nudge my own 12-year-old students to evaluate the ramifications for their own (mostly poor) choices and behavior if they were in Jonas's world and facing their job assignment. Because, in Jonas's world, those who display intelligence, or promise, or passion have the potential for jobs like scientist, or caretaker for the elderly. Those who are not so bright or lazy or deviant are assigned much less prestigious jobs, like birth-mother (Huh, what? Yeah, that could be a whole blog post on its own).

My not-so-covert suggestions that my students would fall low on the totem pole were aimed at one of them in particular.

As far as a picture of the typical student goes, Brent would be the anomaly. From the past year and a half teaching him, and from the rumblings I've heard regarding his performance in previous grades, Brent has made it abundantly clear his aspirations for an educational career. Let me tell you, they are pretty small, if not non-existent. Bright, quick-witted, and perceptive, Brent is completely cognizant of the damage he is doing by making his own daily schedule at school, which doesn't often align with what the teachers have planned, and more often than not involves sabotaging their plans. If his approach to school is any indicator of his approach to life (which grows more likely the older he grows), Brent's future will be a troubled one.

Feeling particularly frustrated with Brent the day we stumbled upon this disturbing stipulation of the "utopian" society, I very much meant to infer that were he not released for his disobedience, he would end up a menial laborer of some sort. Of all the outspoken, unfiltered mouths in the classroom with the potential to state exactly what I was thinking, but couldn't say, I didn't quite expect Brent to be the one to do the job for me.

"Poop cleaner. I'm pretty sure I'd be the guy who ended up poop cleaner."

There was a round of consenting nods from the rest of the class as they settled on the very appropriate outcome for Brent. I opened my mouth to add my two cents, but realized that he had truly said it all.

If Know-er of the Cold Hard truth were a job assignment in The Giver, Brent might have found his calling in life.

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