Monday, July 21, 2014


I went to watch a movie with my kids on a rainy 4th of July, and one of the previews for the movie version of Lois Lowry's book The Giver.  It had been about 15 years since I had read the book for the first time, and didn't remember the book being quite so action-packed as the preview suggested.  Now, I realize that the movie version rarely matches up to the book completely, and that they have to try and market it to the action-seeking group in the crowd, but, I thought it was a little over-the-top.  Before the preview, I had thought the book would be fine for my soon-to-be 9-year old to read, and so I decided to re-read it to make sure the book that I thought I remembered was what I saw in the preview.

As I re-read the book, I realized that my 9-year old wasn't quite ready for the themes that were being discussed.  What I hadn't planned on discovering was how it would make me think about the current state of education and the impact that so much of what is going on with the reform movement.

By way of short synopsis, what is essentially the government decides everything that will happen to their citizens and when: at what age the girls can get a ribbon in their hair, when does every child get a bike, and ultimately, at the age of 12, what their career will be.  They base those career decisions on volunteer hours that the children are expected to perform and by constant observation of their activities.  There is no choice (although there is an appeal process) and the child will perform that function in society until they are sent to the home for the old and eventually moved on from there.

One of the more respected positions in the community is that of Receiver.  Because the government has done away with pain for their citizens, the Receiver is responsible for holding on to all of the memories for the group.  He gains access to these memories from the previous Receiver, who now becomes the Giver.  As the Giver shares the memories of the past, he loses the memory to the Receiver.

My fear is that this is the kind of society we are developing into, one where we trust the government to take care of all our needs, wants, and concerns; one where the government does their best to take away all of the pain from our lives, which would mean taking away all of our memories.  Edward R. Murrow, journalist and radio host during World War II said that "A nation of sheep will beget a government of wolves."

We need to be teaching our students to ask questions and no to take things at face value.  We need to teach them how to ask questions and advocate for themselves.  We need to break them from the apathy that dominates so many of their lives and engage them in what it means to be a citizen.  Citizens are not afraid to question authority or to understand that the country that they live in is a great one, but one that could be so much better if we worked together to achieve something greater.

The fact that education reformers want to push history and civics education behind other subjects dooms us to the lives of the citizens in The Giver.  No thanks.  "Sameness" is boring.

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