Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Bobbing For Communists

Last year:

"Why are we reading a story with talking animals?" The boy wasn't actively trying to be a smart ass, but he was clearly hoping that by at least attempting a dialogue with me before we started the newly assigned Animal Farm he could forestall the inevitable portion of the class where I make them read most of the chapter out loud because I know that they won't do the reading at home.

"You'll find out as we read it. I don't want to give anything away yet". I could have explained that the Orwell considered the story a fable, an allegory to illustrate the dangers of Communism but I had been hoping that I might draw comparisons and parallels as we went along. They, however, wanted all the answers up front. "You're making us read a kid's book!" they whined. And, from the same almost smart ass, "Can we read the Berenstain Bears next? I always liked that."

"Sure", I said. "If you can find one in the series that demonstrates the evils of a government that only works on paper".

"What about one where they learn about the dangers of strangers?"

"No. Sorry. That not on the approved curriculum for this year. And you're not six."

This year:

By God, I prefaced passing out the book with a brief review of what the students remembered of the Russian Revolution, Marxism and the major players in the newly founded Soviet Union after the death of Lenin. This year's group is a lovely bunch, but entirely even more concrete than last year's group. A fable is something to be played on their console system, not read in their English class. The console one lets them kill a man just to watch him die with impunity.

They remembered a surprising amount. One kid launched into a very solemn, trivia laden speech about Trotsky and his wife going into exile, followed by his eventual assassination. Once we finished the review, I passed out the book and said, "Great. Yes. There are talking animals in this book, but Orwell wrote it because he wanted to satirize Communism and making the Communists pigs seemed like a pretty good start. As we read, I want you to look for which farm characters are Lenin, Stalin and Trotsky."

Boy, it's amazing how much more motivated they seem to be when it's a treasure hunt instead of a thinking exercise. Although I do have to get to thinking skills at some point. It is on the approved curriculum, after all.

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Violet said...


Teaching is all about the song and dance. Teach them without letting them think they're learning.

Ari said...

I think around actual 1984 I actually read 1984. I was hooked on Orwell from then on. I read Animal Farm by choice, even though it was dark and disturbing and I didn't understand all of it. These kids in today's world don't have a cold war to fear, so maybe they don't get the threat of Communism like those of us who remember Red Dawn.

Lightning Bug's Butt said...

God bless you for introducing the kids to that wonderful book, Animal Farm.

Dave Morris said...

how about reading a book about the history of corporal punishment in the public school system?

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