Explore the rationale behind George Orwell's 1984 being taught in high-school English classes.

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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A case can be made for teaching Orwell's book to high school students.  The strongest element here would be that Orwell's book is important for students to understand the nature of external oppression.   In a world in which students will have to be stronger advocates of being global citizens, recognizing the lengths and means by which governments go to in order maintain and solidify control over their people is a lesson that high school students must grasp and Orwell's work certainly delivers on this element.  Along these lines, I think that a point can be made about the potential dangers for technology.  Given how so many students, not merely high school students, are dependent on technology, it might be worthwhile to see how technology is coopted by Big Brother to control its people.  Imagine the revelation that facebook and Twitter are simply governmental driven tools to control what people think and how people act.  This might be a lesson that high school students can gain much from, especially considering that the job of harnessing the power and social gain from technology is going to be theirs to inherit.

As with all ideas of whether something should be taught or not be taught, much depends on the comfort of the instructor.  A case to be made against the teaching of the book would probably reside in the disturbing nature of some of the ideas in it.  Particularly of note would be Orwell's display of sex.  Julia uses sex as a form of resistance, and Winston buys into this.  It might be difficult to convey to teens in high school how sex is seen as political resistance, especially when it is so complex in terms of how teens view sex right now.  I think that one is adding more complexity and nuances to an issue that is already complex and nuance.  In this, there might be some level of reticence in exploring sex in such a manner.  Additionally, the disturbing nature of how the characterizations are presented might also be something to monitor in so far as kids in high school might not be developmentally ready to see this in such a light.  Another issue to be raised here would be whether or not local communities feel a level of comfort in bringing such elements out in their classroom setting.  I certainly believe that some of Orwell's ideas that he raises in the book could be ones that local communities have some issue in addressing, and this might be a reason to see it as not something that can be taught in all high school settings.


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