Sunday, February 28, 2010

Building Perfect Worlds

(From my blog to parents. Call me lazy.)

I took a close look at what I had planned for this quarter and then took closer look at our last quarter of the semester. Some of the projects and essays I want the students to work on are just too important to skip, so it looks like I will bleed this unit over into the next quarter. I think this will work out simply because my plans are based on last years time line. You may not know this, but Echo Hill was usually in the Spring and cut into 4th quarter studies. Since we have already taken care of this 8th grade trip, we have some time to wiggle around in.

Which brings us to our current study. We are taking closer looks into the idea of equality and fairness (a topic that is a favorite of our students and, no doubt, a regular guest star at family discussions) through the literary device of "Utopia." I am trying to encourage the students' imagination to work in tandem with their budding ability in logic. Through the genre of Science Fiction, we are exploring Scott Westerfeld's futuristic world of "Uglies." I know, I know: your professors probably turned their nose up at the Sci-Fi genre and told you it wasn't "serious literature." Well I have two words for that argument: Kurt Vonnegut.

I doubt many would disparage Mr. Vonnegut as a frivolous author and he used Science Fiction as a mode of delivering some rather arch observations on current events. He is not alone. Today, Jules Verne and H.G. Wells are still the most widely read authors of their time. The popularity of TV shows like "Lost" and the triumphant return of cult classic "Dr. Who" are also evidence of how modern writers are commenting on current events such as quantum mechanics, ethical relativism, and the future of the Human race. And you know what else? Science Fiction is fun to read.

This quarter, students will write an essay where they imagine what their prefect work would be like and what it says about their current points of view. They will also build a model of a community from this vision complete with a handbook on how to live in it as well as a brochure to entice people to live there. Many of them have already made the leap that at the heart of a "perfect" world is a kernel of disaster waiting to blossom. Many of them have read "The Giver" and we have watched the first 15 minuted of "Logan's Run" and they suspect that there are nefarious elements at work id something seems too good to be true.

It is my hope that when they go on to read "1984", "Brave New World", and Plato's "Republic," that they will recognize those environments from the work they do this here. I hope that there are some thought provoking discussions at the family dinner table.

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