It is sooo much fun making 7th graders uncomfortable and embarrassed. Is that mean? When the kids accuse me of being mean I tell them I get paid extra for being that way.
“The meaner I am, the fatter the paycheck.”
I didn’t think kids said that any more.
But I don’t think making them say “eew” or “gross” or making them do the uncomfortable/embarrassed squirm instead of the I’m-so-hyper-I-can’t-cope squirm is being mean. Besides, when you have 7th graders reading chapter 5 of The Giver, well now you have what the military calls a “target rich environment.”
This year’s bunch was kind of cute about it, actually. After the previous night’s reading assignment, I hold a Q and A session before the reading quiz. I tell them I will answer any and all questions they have about whatever they don’t get. “I don’t get it,” is not a question. I also won’t answer, “What happened in chapter __?” Sometimes the sessions get a little free-wheeling, and each one takes on the characteristics of that class period. But this year, more than the past couple of years I have taught this book, there were waaay more kids with the question,
“What are the Stirrings?”
They’re so cute.
Anyway, we talked about how after religion and greed (both of which the Community has eliminated), the other main cause of conflict in the world is “the Stirrings.”
“I intercept notes all the time; I find them on the ground. I wish I still had them all, because if I published all of them as is, it would be a best-seller, and I could retire. But 90% of them are about shtuff like…OMG (s)he likes me…OMG I saw her with so and so…and OMG I hate him because he… It’s all about the Stirrings. You take that away, and things get a lot more peaceful.”
They also figured out that this arrangement with birthmothers and such would lead to them all looking similar and/or being related. Good job science department!
The word of the day was weird. Whenever 7th graders are faced with something that they can’t cope with, it’s weird.
“Did Jonas like that weird dream about Fiona?”
“It says he did…except for the laughing-at-him-part.”
“Sounds pretty normal to me.”
As we talked about how the pills not only suppress the Stirrings, but most strong emotions too, one group had the insightful observation that the conversations between friends in the Community are so superficial. They never talk about real stuff, just work and assignments and such. Excellent.
One crew somehow spent most of their Q and A and discussion time on whether the males and females took different formulations of the pills, and if they did, what would happen if they mixed them up.
“I bet the men would like grow breasts and stuff, and start talking all high and stuff.”
“The pills are supposed to suppress those kinds of characteristics.”
“Yeah but, what if the women got all buff, and…”
“Time for the quiz.”
Last year’s kids were even more squirmy about this, because we read it in class. Here’s an excerpt from last October 30th…
“You’ll notice that there’s no mention of ‘Birthfathers.’ We’re obsolete, boys.”
“Wait. how do they do they…?”
“I would assume it’s sort of like what we do with horses and cattle and such.”
“EWWWWW.” From those that get it. There are a few who are still a little behind the curve. Not for long. Wednesday we read chapter 5, the one where Jonas has the dream about Fiona. Oh, that was fun. We get to where he “shifts in his chair” as he’s trying to decide how to tell about this dream.
“What’s that mean?”
“You did something wrong, and you feel guilty.”
“Maybe, but I don’t think Jonas did anything wrong.”
“You’re nervous. You’re embarrassed.”
The first snickers begin when Jonas talks about how it’s just Fiona and him by the tub. Then he says that she keeps laughing at him (”Get used to it gentlemen”). More snickers. Once he gets to where he’s trying to get her into the tub, it’s pandemonium.
“Do you guys have a problem?” Giggle. Smirk. Red faces. Squirming. Guffaws. Lots of looking around at each other to check reactions.
“I figure he’d be weird if he didn’t have “Stirrings.”
“Too much information!!! Gross.”
Then Mother “glances” at Father. They are quick to pick up on that one.
“He’s gonna get ‘The Talk.’”
Good call. But they call Dad. It throws them for a loop when it’s Mother who dishes out the pill. I think they’re a little disappointed we don’t get much of a Talk. Then when Jonas is thinking he was liking the Stirrings, and tries to call them back, the laughter breaks out again.
“I think some of you need to have a little talk with Mom about the Stirrings yourselves.”
Back to now. In one class we started reading chapter 6 today. At one point Jonas’s mother calls out to him to remember to take his pill. There was general laughter at that line, and in the quiet afterward, but before I start reading again, Sunny blurts out,
“I’ve heard that before.”
General chaos ensued.
“I’m sure you have.”
Postscript: If you have time and the inclination, check out We by Yevgeny Zamyatin. It was supposedly the inspiration for Orwell’s 1984, Vonnegut’s Player Piano, and The Giver. I really enjoyed it. But I’m a sucker for those crazy Russian writers.