How and when do children go to school in The Giver?

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Gretchen Mussey eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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While Lowry does not go into specific detail about what age children start school, we know that Lily was in school at the age of six because she mentions that she spent an entire school day with another group of Sixes from a neighboring community. In Jonas's structured community, children begin school at a young age and remain with peers of the same age until the Ceremony of Twelve, where each twelve-year-old adolescent is given an Assignment.

At the beginning of the novel, Jonas is an Eleven and spends his after-school hours volunteering at various occupations throughout the community. The Committee of Elders carefully monitors each child throughout the years and pays close attention to where the adolescents spend the majority of their community hours in order to determine their Assignment. While not much information is given regarding Jonas's education, the readers discover that Jonas's teachers focus on accurate language and enforce corporal punishment.

Jonas's teachers are also knowledgeable in the subjects of math and science but do not teach literature or history, which is why Jonas is astonished when he first sees the Giver's extensive library. Subjects like literature and history have the potential to destabilize the community by influences students to individually express themselves or question their structured society. Once the children are given their Assignments, they focus specifically on the requirements and skills of their occupations.

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In Jonas's community, children go to school from a young age and continue until they reach adulthood, but the training changes.  Early training focuses on teaching children to be obedient and use language properly.  This begins at the toddler age.  Babies are raised by Nurturers until they reach about a year old (although "one year" varies, depending on when they were born in the year, and some children are older than others when they join the group of ones).  Toddlers are raised by their families except when their parents are at work, when they are in Childcare groups.

When school begins, the lessons focus more and more on proper use of language and obeying social norms.  The goal is to make the children as much the same as possible.  Each year, they have a ceremony where all of the children born in a year are given different objects that symbolize growth to adulthood.  These include tunics that button in the front and  bicycles.  At some ceremonies they give up items, such as hair ribbons and the comfort objects they attain when they are babies.

As children get older, they begin to volunteer with adults in careers.  They choose the service, and are supposed to vary it when they first begin.  As they get older, they gravitate toward areas of interest.  At the same time, they are observed constantly by the Committee.  When they turn 12, they are assigned to their adult careers.

After 12, school continues and training begins after school.  As the children get older, they attend school less and less and training more and more, until they are fully trained and begin their adult career.

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