Making It Real for Them: Literacy, Science and the Ticking Doomsday Clock

Our community of students (104 children) is reading The Giver together.  Twice a week, during advisory, each of the 5 teachers in the community read one chapter of the book and then discuss it with the class. Once every 2 weeks, the reading teacher reads an additional chapter in her class and discusses it.  She also quizzes them along the way.

For those who have never read this fine piece of dystopian fantasy, in a few sentences, its about a community of people in a post apocalypic world full of sameness, order and “oblivious happiness”. Jonas, the protagonist, is a 12 year old being prepared to take on the most honored position in the community; he is to become “The Giver”, the holder of all the memories of the past. Thursday of this week, we got to Chapter 14, one of my favorites. 

The old “Giver” has been preparing Jonas for his new life’s work as the new “Giver” by introducing him to the memories of the people.  In this chapter, he is specifically sharing pain and suffering.  He talks about a time in the distant past when people were hungry and went without, a time when there was war and resources were scarce.  He tells Jonas of how, after the “removal” of the pain and suffering,  the community wanted to increase the number of babies born and he strongly suggested that not happen because of the memories he saw when there was scarcity.  Jonas asked if the Giver had given them a reason why; he told him they never want to know why, they don’t want to know about the pain.

So, Friday, each of MY classes discussed Chapter 14 and what Jonas thought of it all.  Then I started a video from the show Dirty Jobs.  Mike Rowe visited the Chicago Botanical Gardens, where, a “doomsday seed repository”, one of nearly 100 in the world, is collecting seeds from every single type of flora possible. They’re preparing for a day when we might just need to start over as a species. My students know all about how important plants are for the sustenance of life on Earth (6th grade standards) and  are learning is a possible FUTURE event for them or their children and grandchildren could include a time of destruction, pain and suffering because of how we’re living now. We’re learning about population growth and scarcity of natural resources.  We’re going to consider ways we can prevent that possible future. The notion that someone “out there” is actually preparing for it freaked them out a bit. It made it very real for them.  In connecting the dots between the story and the video, in addition to what they’ve learned this week;  they are more scientifically literate. In addition, I integrated literature to bring real life into full focus.

When the Dirty Jobs episode was over, the room was silent.  Then the bell rang.  I let them go.  We’ll think more on our futures Monday.

Here is a clip from the Dirty Jobs episode on the seed repository. Its available, for a modest fee, on YouTube.   If you are interested in the story “The Giver”, it has been made into a film.  I STRONGLY suggest reading the book first. (It’s actually book 1 of a 4 book quartet) A great deal of license has been taken with the movie.