Wednesday, September 21, 2011

An Exploration of Government

I just reread a "trilogy" of the books where the first one is often taught to middle school students.  But there's the reason for rereading -- after finishing all three right in a row I had some major ideas that I wish I had had when I taught the actual books.  Maybe someday I can go back and use this!

The "trilogy" is by Lois Lowry.  The first and second books are companion books (that's why there are quotes around trilogy) and then the third book finishes the other two and brings them together.  In order they are: The Giver, Gathering Blue, Messenger.

Of the three, you can ignore Messenger.  Isn't that terrible?  Unless you want to see what happens.  But I thought that Lowry had some fantastic ideas and the plot was very interesting and then the ending just was a cop out -- a kind've I-don't-know-how-else-to-resolve-this-so-I'll-just-do-it-quick kind've thing.  I was really disappointed.

But the other two.  Oh my.

So both The Giver and Gathering Blue are set in the future and feature very different societies from ours.  The Giver's society is more advanced in many ways but has worked to create a state of "sameness" -- total equality and no differences.  In Gathering Blue, the society has regressed to more primitive times and there is a great disparity among the people and the small group that controls and rules over them.

The books are geared towards middle school readers but I decided that it would be particularly fascinating to read them either with students who were studying the formation of American government or who were studying the workings of governments in general.  Why do we separate literature from everything else?  I think that you could have some fascinating conversations with high-schoolers about these societies and how they mirror or own --and how they don't.  In fact, there are some key points to explore and questions to raise in the teaching.

1.  Both societies have a ruling group that controls the people's access to knowledge.  How is that reflected in our society today?  How difficult would it be to take what we have currently and impose the society the exists in the books.  
2.  What do you think were the original intentions of the founders/creators of each society?  In what ways does it appear that those intentions have been warped? (This is a particularly interesting question with all the debate NOW about our founding fathers and the government they intended to create vs. what we have and where it's going.)
3.  Both books feature a main character that has been singled out due to a specific talent or gift.  How do we celebrate or hinder those with gifts in our society?  What gifts or talents are honored in our society?
4.  In The Giver, the main character leaves his society in order to change it.  In Gathering Blue, the main character stays in order to do the same thing.  Compare and contrast these decisions.  What kinds of problems might we face today that need similar reactions?

If I were teaching this today, I would start the kids reading the books before we even talked about government.  They're short, easy reads so it wouldn't take long I think but I would read them one at a time and discuss them individually before approaching them together and in conjunction with modern day government.  In my head, I believe that students would find this approach to government relevant and interesting.  In reality, I know that's always up in the air.  But it's worth a shot.