Monday, May 14, 2012

Syllabus for Dystopian Lit Class

A couple of people have requested that I post a list of the books we read for the Dystopian Lit class I organized for folks in my local homeschool community. The class was advertised as a "Teen Lit Class", because some of the books had very "adult" themes, and because the topics we would be discussing could be disturbing for younger students.

We read eight novels over a nine-week period (there was a "school" break in there during which the location where we were holding classes would be closed, and so we didn't have class that week). It was a very ambitious schedule, and most of the kids rose to the occasion. I was completely impressed with them, and even those who hadn't read or who had only partially completed the novels, added a lot to the conversation. In short, the point of the class was not to have the kids reading a bunch of books, because as homeschoolers, most of them are readers already, but rather to get them thinking about the themes in those books - and how what's happening in our real world lends credence to the authors' warnings.

There were four themes with two novels in each theme.

Theme I: Does popular culture influence the laws and rules by which we are forced to live?

Week 1: The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins
Week 2: Harrison Bergeron (short story), Kurt Vonnegut and The Long Walk, Stephen King writing as Richard Bachman

Theme II: What happens when human beings start trying to manipulate nature?

Week 3: I Am Legend, Richard Matheson
Week 4: Oryx and Crake, Margaret Atwood

Theme III: What happens when governments try to control and regulate reproduction?

Week 5: The Giver, Lois Lowry
Week 6: Among the Hidden (Shadow Children #1), Margaret Peterson Haddix

Theme IV: What might life be like if civilization were to collapse?

Week 7: Into the Forest: A Novel, Jean Hegland
Week 8: Last Light, Alex Scarrow

If we were to view each of these stories as the proverbial “canary in the coal mine”, they could be said to be a warning of things to come. Students are asked to bring in an example each week of a real-life news story that illustrates the author’s caution.

I knew, going in, that some of the books would be really tough. There were several adult fiction titles, but I chose them, because they followed the themes, and in preparing and advertising the class, I was very careful to warn parents and potential students that the topics might be difficult - especially for younger readers.

I had a blast teaching the class. The kids were amazing and incredibly insightful, and really, if they are the example of the kinds of people who will be running things in the future, I'm feeling a little better.

On the other hand, if any one of those authors is correct ... let's just say we hope it's not Matheson ... or Atwood ... or Scarrow ... or ... ;).

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