What is the difference between the schools in The Giver and American schools today?

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I must begin by commenting that education in America is not only swiftly changing but is also incredibly diverse in format and opportunities, so what is typical in one American community may be unheard of in another. Because I have worked in various academic settings, I have been shocked at...

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I must begin by commenting that education in America is not only swiftly changing but is also incredibly diverse in format and opportunities, so what is typical in one American community may be unheard of in another. Because I have worked in various academic settings, I have been shocked at how extensively thoughts about educating children can vary from region to region and how greatly resources can vary even within the same state. That said, there are some differences that apply to most schools in America.

Our current educational system places a high priority on acquiring a college education. Even from around sixth grade, teachers and counselors begin talking to students about their potential career paths, and plans are constructed. Students take various placement tests, interest inventories, and achievement tests along the way and have at least some voice in their eventual career path.

In Jonas's world, students are wrapping up their educations around this same age. This is when they receive their Assignment, and while their talents and volunteer hours have been carefully studied, they don't have any voice in what their Assignment will be. They don't go to college to receive a broad education in conjunction with their specialized training; instead, they solely focus on the skills needed to perform that one job well.

There are also not any students who exhibit special needs in The Giver. Although Jonas's classmates excel at various tasks, there doesn't seem to be anyone who really struggles with learning, who exhibits uncommon behaviors, or who seems unable to find a typical career path. This is likely due to the release of newborns who don't thrive.

In America, the services available to students with special needs varies greatly depending on where those students live. Some districts have special schools established for students with special needs. Some schools integrate all students into the same classrooms and employ additional assistants to help each student (even 1-on-1) successfully achieve standards. Some schools have separate classes for students with special needs. There is no discussion of any type of educational modifications such as these in The Giver.

Educational settings also vary tremendously in contemporary America. Students may be homeschooled, enrolled in public schools, or attend religious private schools. The majority of American students are enrolled in public schools, yet even this type of education has become increasingly diverse. In fact, it is possible in my district for students to be enrolled in our public high schools and never set foot on campus. Students can enroll in online classes, attend the local vocational school, take classes at our local community college for dual enrollment credit, or show up to traditional classes at the local high school—or enroll in any combination of these settings.

There are no such options in The Giver. Because the entire society focuses on uniformity and compliance, allowing this freedom of choice to children and their families is not conducive to the goals of the community.

Education is so different between the two settings because the goals are so different. In Jonas's society, the focus is on creating compliant, peaceful citizens who can be trained to do one job well and thus keep their dystopian setting functioning. In America, the focus is to give a broad educational experience to all students in order to create diverse and creative thinkers who can help America continue to be a progressive nation.

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The Giver by Lois Lowry is about a dystopian totalitarian society. As such, there are significant differences between the schools in the book and in America today—including the lessons taught, the strict need to adhere to the rules, and the punishment for infractions of the rules.

Society in The Giver is governed by an extensive set of rules. There are rules against nudity, “rules governing rudeness,” those “governing the age for bicycles,” rules about removing items from school recess, and many others. School children learn and memorize the “Book of Rules,” in addition to learning their academic lessons.

Many of the rules specifically governing behavior in school appear overly restrictive compared to American schools today. For instance, children must not remove snacks and other items from school grounds and hair ribbons must be tied neatly “at all times.” Jonas, the protagonist of the book, recalls “with humiliation” the time he “had taken the apple home, against the recreation area rules.”

The punishment for breaking the rules includes a humiliating public announcement over the loudspeaker and the child must apologize in front of the class. Jonas is bewildered by the apple incident, “not by the announcement or the necessary apology; those were standard procedures.”

Moreover, infraction of the rules reflects poorly on the child’s entire family. One boy, Fritz, is described as:

a very awkward child who had been summoned for chastisement again and again. His transgressions were small ones, always: shoes on the wrong feet, schoolwork misplaced, failure to study adequately for a quiz. But each such error reflected negatively on his parents' guidance and infringed on the community's sense of order and success.

Moreover, this is a totalitarian society that essentially eliminates human individuality. This can be seen when Jonas’s friend Asher must “make his public apology” to the class, “as was required":

“I apologize for inconveniencing my learning community.” Asher ran through the standard apology phrase rapidly, still catching his breath. The Instructor and class waited patiently for his explanation. The students had all been grinning, because they had listened to Asher’s explanations so many times before.

…“I apologize to my classmates,” Asher concluded.

“We accept your apology, Asher.” The class recited the standard response in unison.

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It can be argued that American schools today are similar in some ways to the schools in The Giver.  For example, in American schools children are grouped by grade.  In The Giver, they are grouped by age.  However, there are many differences between the two.

In The Giver, education is focused on teaching societal norms, learning about various careers within the Community, and using language correctly.  There are also lessons on technology.  However, there seems to be less of an academic focus compared to American schools.  In the book, the main purpose of school is to train students to be citizens who conform to the expectations of the Community and to prepare for a specific career.  In American schools, students learn about literature, music, and art in additional to reading, writing, math, science, and social studies.  There is no art, music, or literature in the schools in The Giver because all of those things have been forgotten by everyone except for the Giver himself.  Also, most American schools are not focused on career preparation until high school.  

It is clear that Lois Lowry used traditional schooling as a basis for education in her novel.  From there, she created a very different system.

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