Dangerous Work

I went to the movies with my daughter yesterday to see a movie called Earth to Echo which I knew nothing about, but found delightful. Sitting through the previews, I watched one for a new movie called The Giver and it looked interesting. A little too much like The Hunger Games, Ender’s Game, etc., but interesting. When I started thinking about it, I remembered a book of the same title from when I taught 6th and 8th grade way back in 1997. Obviously, I’m not very up on my children’s literature because it is one of the most popular, well sold, controversial, banned books out there.

So, I downloaded it and read it in about 2 hours. It was fantastic. I can see immediately how young people are drawn to it. I have no idea if the movie will be any good but the book left me, like it does a lot of pre-teens, wondering about the ending and surprised along the way. I highly recommend it.

But, after reading it I looked in the back and found Lois Lowry’s Newbery Award acceptance speech. It is also very good and provides a backdrop to how she began the idea of the book. In the end she had these words:

And all of you, as well. Let me say something to those of you here who do such dangerous work. The man that I named The Giver passed along to the boy knowledge, history, memories, color, pain, laughter, love, and truth. Every time you place a book in the hands of a child, you do the same thing. It is very risky. But each time a child opens a book, he pushes open the gate that separates him from Elsewhere. It gives him choices. It gives him freedom. Those are magnificent, wonderfully unsafe things.

I thought about teaching and how teachers embody this idea of hers. I thought about evolution and 9th grade, and how kids begin to question and figure things out, and how dangerous that is for them.

I remembered in 1987 being a very religious Catholic, although not a creationist-more interested in the ethics and morals. Then, majoring in geology at the University of Georgia, taking Philosophy of Science and paleontology classes (my first ever intense dose of Darwin and natural selection) and having my world turned upside down. Putting those books and readings into my hands was a dangerous thing for me. I was exposed and uncomfortable, I had to suddenly make choices and formulate who I was.

The problem was that now the foundation of biology and life through time, made total sense in the light of evolution.

I went to geology mapping field school in Canon City, Colorado and our home base was this wonderful Holy Cross Abbey. Beautiful area of the world and the abbey was a quiet, place to come back to after 6-8 hours hiking around mountains piecing together underground geologic formations by looking at exposed outcrops. It was hot, dry and hard to comprehend. There was a monk there at the abbey (Benedictine) who would take walks in the evenings. I began taking walks with him. We talked about the field school work and eventually I confided in him about my doubts about religion and what I had learned in science. I told him that most of what I had grown up to believe did not make sense any more in light of natural selection, but that the morality and ethics still did. I was pretty bothered by this and felt guilty. He was a great listener. Eventually he told me that having doubts was ok and that following my own path was (in his mind) what was supposed to happen. So, I did.

I only bring this up because although I was older than most kids that read The Giver, having your predisposed world  rocked is something I know a little about. Having to evaluate and formulate your own authentic ideas from books and teachings is dangerous and sometimes painful. As a teacher, sometimes I forget that. Kids are not used to thinking for themselves at that age. They have to be nurtured into that.

So, The Giver had an impact on me as an adult and caused me to reflect. I think as teachers we sometimes downplay the impact we have by what we teach and how we ask kids to think. I know I will be more mindful to this and create more opportunities for kids to wade through the “dangerous work” that is done.

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