February 28, 2013

What Ray Bradbury has to say to today's urban young

Matt Amaral, Teach4Real - One of my favorite books to teach is Fahrenheit 451 by the late Ray Bradbury. Not only has it withstood the test of time, I feel that with each new evolution in social media, and with each new advancement in how we consume media using technology, Bradbury’s dystopian masterpiece remains valid. This isn’t too bad for a book written in 1953.

More than anyone, I am a proponent of making sure we teach books to low income urban students that contain characters like themselves—at least in 9th and 10th grade. Students can appreciate a book like Catcher in the Rye if they are at a place in their reading and writing lives where they can understand it.

However in our public schools the students in the lower secondary grades are not at a place where they can always appreciate characters and time periods that do not reflect their day-to-day experience. We need to get them reading and writing about the familiar before we get them writing about the unfamiliar and foreign. So you are well within your rights in finding it odd I am lauding a book starring a fireman in some futuristic society whose job it is to burn books.

The strength of Fahrenheit 451 is directly related to Bradbury’s prescient view of society. The characters in the novel live in a world where it is illegal to read books, and if you are found doing so the unfriendly local firemen come and burn your house down. But the real genius is how the people spend their time, captured best in the protagonist’s wife Mildred. Mildred’s life is consumed by two things: Her wall-sized televisions and her earphones plugged into her ears, which she only takes out to—you guessed it—watch the televisions. The fact that Ray Bradbury foresaw the increased size and number of televisions is pretty amazing, as well as our addiction and consequent mental apathy. But the fact that he saw in our future a world where people were always plugged into their earphones is wild. How could he have seen these things in the 50s?

Getting students to understand these themes is easy because technology is a main component of their lives. So even though Montag’s world is much different from theirs—it also isn’t. Once you get over the oddness of this futuristic setting, what students find is that they are Mildred. They cannot have a conversation, they never take out their earphones, they watch giant screens all day, and it has gotten to a point where it is beginning to consume them.

...Here is a list of topics we have covered this year, and you can see why it is so easy to get kids to write persuasively:

Does Facebook Make You Depressed?

Is Social Media Making Us Less Social?

Have Smartphones Replaced Boredom and Is That Good?

Can You Be Friends, Or More, If You’ve Never Met Someone?

2 comments:

greg gerritt said...

I have a small 15 year old television, no cell phone, and no earphones. No wonder i get a lot done and spend much of my time challenging the received wisdom on economic growth.

Anonymous said...

Dump the tv and it gets even better.