Orwell, Dystopia, and The Hunger Games

  Before there was 2012, there was 1984.  I remember when 1984 was approaching and wondering if Orwell would be right.  With the Soviets in Afghanistan, the Cold War was still very cold but there was a new man in the Kremlin and he did speak of reform.  Still there was Orwell’s date.  As teenagers, we had all been assigned the book and the twentieth century was certainly  known for its totalitarian regimes.  So, maybe, just maybe, like 2012, Orwell would be right.  Of course, the year passed without Big Brother watching us.  But just because Big Brother wasn’t watching us then didn’t mean Big Brother would never be watching us.  And so we came to love the dystopian novel!  It reminded us not to take our freedoms for granted.  

  As you have probably guessed by now, I just saw The Hunger Games and loved it.  My students had been discussing it for months before the premiere and their enthusiasm was contagious.  Since it has been rumored that my favorite expression as a teenager was “Damn Fascists,” especially whenever my freedoms were restricted, they naturally encouraged me to see the film.  Novels and films like The Hunger Games remind each and every one of us that our freedoms and individual rights are not guaranteed unless we actively seek their preservation.  And in my humble opinion, the best way to ensure our commitment to the preservation of our rights and liberties is the cultivation of an educated mind, a mind that analyzes a multiplicity of perspectives in order to determine a reasoned conclusion.  Naturally, I believe that Parabola Magazine is the ideal training ground for the educated, analytical mind of the future citizen. 

  In every issue of Parabola Magazine, a theme is addressed from many diverse perspectives and from this wealth of information; the student can begin to formulate his own conclusions and ideas.  Parabola Magazine is a wonderful vehicle for cultivating an open mind.  The open mind is a more analytical mind because it does not automatically disqualify a reasoned conclusion.  Like the Pope insisting that Galileo recant because surely the earth does not move, a closed mind will disregard the very facts before its eyes in order to preserve a conclusion, even an erroneous conclusion.

   So, how do we as educators and parents cultivate analytical thinking and open minds?  To answer this question, I reflect on a chance encounter I had in the park this morning.  A father arrived at the park with a beautiful kite and two-year old twins.  The twins, initially, were very excited about the kite.  They gathered around the father and he lovingly spoke to them about the kite and their participation in the flying of it.  As a walked, I smiled and thought, “What a patient parent.”  After a few minutes, the loving words faded and the children were told to let go of the kite.  Of course, small children generally are not skilled kite flyers and beautiful kites generally do not stay beautiful in the hands of small children.  So, after several minutes of letting them fly the kite, the father took control of the kite flying.  With nothing better to do then watch, the toddlers began to cry and fuss and the father hurriedly packed them up and left the park.  

  Now, having had my moment with toddlers, I cast no stones.  I, too, remember wanting to fly a kite with young children and failing.  But in that failure, there is an important lesson for educators.  Children learn by doing and bore by watching.  Perhaps if the kite was cheaper, the father would have let them fly and lose the kite.  And in flying and losing the kite, it would have been their experience. 

  In the classroom, sometimes the premium is on order and an army of passive spectators is unfortunately created.  Let us not create passive spectators for passive spectators will never preserve our rights and liberties.  Let us create a generation of thinkers and doers, a generation of challengers and actors on the stage.  Let us create young people who think for themselves and occasionally fail and let us applaud those failures for too much order is fascism.  Damn fascists!

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