OK, I’m finally going to finish the bomb shelter story. Maybe.
After we finished The Giver, we had a couple of days before Christmas to sort of debrief and discuss. We talked about “the end justifying the means” and such, and if it is OK to sacrifice one innocent to save multiple others. (Here’s Part I.)
Then I busted out something I hadn’t used in years; the old bomb shelter exercise. I got it out of an old 70’s touchy-feely teaching book. I had to give some background about “duck and cover” and Mutually Assured Destruction and that sort of thing (good groundwork for The Martian Chronicles later on), and they laughed about hiding under their desks from nuclear weapons, and then…
“So now the missiles are coming in two minutes. Your bomb shelter has enough room and supplies for you, your family, and six other people. But there are 10 people pounding on your door begging to be let in. You have to leave four outside to die.”
I give them the same group of ten supplicants I got from the old book:
a) An accountant, 31 years old, b) his wife who is 6 months pregnant, c) a rabbi, 45 years old, d) a 2nd year medical student, 25 years old, e) a famous historian and author, 55 years old, f) A Hollywood actress and singer, 24 years old, g) a Nobel Prize-winning biochemist, h) an Olympic decathlete, i) female college student, 20 years old, j) a police officer and his gun (cannot be separated).
“Go! You got two minutes.”
“Wait…what, how? Do we just write the letter? What? How do we…?”
I ignore their questions, and I start hounding them and yelling like the ones begging to be let in.
“Please let me in! Remember…we’ll have to repopulate the world after. You need women! Technically you only need one man. You need lots of women. Please let me in! I’m strong and smart and been to college…” I start kicking desks and saying stuff like,
“You only have two people picked…you’re going to let the others just die because you can’t make the call? What? Hurry up. Please let me in! You only have 48 seconds left….why would you take the cop?”
“Ummm…because of the gun…we might need it…”
“For WHAT? Everybody’s going to be dead. Isn’t that what got us here in the first place? I can just see it; a showdown in the shelter. You only have 15 seconds left! Rabbi? Hmmm tough call…5 seconds. BOOOOOOOOOOM!”
They can’t cope. When the two minutes is up, only about half of them have actually written down six choices. Some fold their arms and refuse to make a decision. Some pick seven and say they would stay outside so one more could live. (Uh huh. Seventh graders are always so melodramatic. Like yesterday when we started reading The Midwife’s Apprentice, and Brat crawls into the dung heap to keep from freezing. More than half said they would rather freeze to death. Uh huh. Yeah, suuuurrre.) As always, there are some who claim the choice was “easy.”
The discussion of their whys and wherefores is the best part. Manana.
(Vocabulary Note: The word wherefore actually means why. So the sentence above is like when the kids say, “the whole, entire thing.” It’s redundant. But it sounds cool. And Juliet’s speech up on the balcony, where she says, “Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?” really means, “Why are you Romeo?” and not “Where are you Romeo?” She’s wondering why he can’t be named something else besides Romeo Montague, because then they could be together. It comes before the classic “rose by any other name” line.)