It is interesting how the educational system and culture are set up in Lois Lowry's The Giver. First of all, only 50 children are allowed to enter the community when they are born, and even then the children aren't named are numbered. They only receive a name if they make it through their first year of life and are then given to a family. After that, each grade is referred to as "Fives," or "Nines," or "Elevens." With almost every advancement in years, the children of the community either obtain a new privilege, such as Nines receive bicycles, or they lose a symbol of youth, such as Eights having their comfort objects taken away.
Finally, the ceremony for the Twelves is when the children enter into service for careers and jobs that they will hold for the rest of their lives. No doubt this is why Jonas feels anxious about his life because at the opening of the book, he is just a couple of weeks away from turning 12 and receiving his assignment.
Jonas's father tries to calm his son's nerves about the assignment process by telling the story that his own assignment was not a surprise since the Committee of Elders always choose assignments based on each child's aptitudes and skills. Jonas finds out that his father felt as though he knew he would be called as a Nurturer before the Ceremony of Twelve. The following is Jonas's reaction to his father's story:
Jonas was surprised. There was no way, really, to know in advance. It was a secret selection, made by the leaders of the community, the Committee of Elders, who took the responsibility so seriously that there were never even any jokes made about Assignments. (15)
So, up until age twelve, students attend a public school where they are probably taught the basics of reading, writing, and some basic math; however, they are also drilled very strictly in following the rules of the community. But it doesn't stop there! Parents also enforce the community's rules at home, even to the point of drugging their kids when they hit puberty so that they learn not to be attracted to, or fall in love with, other students. One might say that the children's lives at home are just an extension of the government's education system.
Ultimately, however, after the Ceremony of Twelve, students receive a packet that tells them which job they must report to the next day to start their internships and apprenticeships. They work and learn as apprentices for a few years, probably up through age 18, and then move up the ranks in their specific jobs. And thanks to the drugs, no one falls in love, everyone follows the rules, and all live in peace and comfort without any consequences. It's the perfect life, right? Or is it?
In the planned society in The Giver, the children start school when they are young and attend school up until they attain their twelfth year and celebrate the “Ceremony of Twelve,” at which time they are given the vocation that they will pursue for the rest of their lives. Specifically, at the Ceremony of Twelve, the children receive the “assignment” that the Elders of the community select for them.
Up until this ceremony, school for Jonas and the other children in The Giver is somewhat similar to school as we know it, except that there are many more rules, the rules are much more strictly enforced, and the children must even study and memorize the rules. Children go to a physical brick-and-mortar school building and are in a classroom with other children their age and at their level. For instance, Jonas is in school with other “Elevens.” They have homework assignments and they have schoolbooks that they must study. They also get recreation, during which time they can play outside with their school friends.
However, another difference is that the Elders observe the older children at school, even during their recreation time, to assess their skills and personalities to make a determination about how to assign their future roles. Jonas says that he had seen the Elders "taking notes.” Moreover, the Elders also meet with all of the school instructors for many hours to discuss each student and get the instructors input before making the final assignments.
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.
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.