55. If you had to choose one book for your kids’ teachers to teach, what would it be and in what grade? #LifeWideLearning16 @bhwilkoff
— Zac Chase (@MrChase) February 24, 2016
If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – forever.
-George Orwell, 1984
I read 1984 in the eighth grade. The above quotation is the single image in all of literature that has stayed with me more than any other. More than Gatsby’s light. More than the white whale. More than The Raven. It is the dystopian future where there is no inner private life and the world exists to perpetuate pain and control.
It stays with me because the book is about the fear of being forgotten. It is about never learning from the past. It is about authoritarianism and what happens when we trade too much of ourselves in service of stability. It is about a kind of constant war, both inside and out.
It is the one novel that most made me want to teach, and I believe it is the one novel that my children need more than any other. It does not speak to the kinds of diverse opinions that I want them to have, nor does it really enrich their lives with inspiration or happiness. It isn’t meant to.
For me, 1984 is to be read because it reveals what you are willing to compromise on. It reveals how important privacy and imagination are to you and whether or not you are willing to push against authority even if it is a futile pursuit. I want each of my children to know that about themselves, to know just how far their humanity will take them.
I’m not sure 8th grade is the perfect time for everyone, but it certainly was for me. If I had to guess, my daughter will be ready in 6th grade and my middle son will likely not be ready until 9th or 10th. I don’t yet know about my youngest, but I’d like to imagine that he could read it with a teacher whenever he so chose. By the time he is ready, I want it to be possible for a mentor to walk him through why the Proles are so important to the future of society. I want him to debate the symbolism of the telescreen in relationship to the ubiquitous screens of our world.
I recognize that it is firmly in “The Cannon” of literature, but I can’t think of another book that so heavily relevant to where my children are headed, or indeed where we are all headed. 1984 is the kind of book that needs to be contextualized and thought through. It is the kind of book that needs a teacher, and I want each of my children to have a good one. For this book, and for many many others.