Posts filed under 'Controversial Issue/Debate'

“The Giver”

“The Giver” by Lois Lowry

180 pp.

Jonas lives in a future utopia in which everyone seems to behave well and apologizes when they hurt someone’s feelings or do something wrong. In the evenings, families share their days, expressing their happiness and frustrations. In the morning, they dutifully report their dreams to one another.

There are many indicators that children are growing up. All children are presented with jobs or tools at the yearly Ceremony. Jonas’ sister, at 8, will start her volunteer hours and at the age of 12, Jonas receives his assignment for life. Rather then become the usual such as an engineer or nurturer, Jonas is to be the receiver, the most important job in the community. He will go to the current Receiver to be given communal memories which individuals don’t know about. Memory is considered too powerful and painful for the general population. The communities, encased in an artificial and perfect environment, know nothing of the heat of the sun or the cold of the winter snow. Jonas is disturbed by many of the memories he receives–of war especially. But he also receives a memory of love that that is more deep and binding than possible in the rational world of his community.

Jonas’ father is a nurturer. He accepts babies from the birth-givers, and works in a nurturing center where babies are kept until they turn one year old. One baby, Gabriel, is not very healthy, and Jonas’ father gets special permission to bring him home to sleep at night, hoping the extra care will help him gain a little weight. If Gabriel does not do better, he will be “Released”. Jonas helps Gabriel sleep by giving him memories, which is strictly forbidden.

Gabriel does not do as well as Jonas’ father had hoped and is scheduled for Release. Jonas and the Giver hatch a plan to bring memory back to the community, but to do so, Jonas must flee “elsewhere.”

I know that many people read this novel before they get to high school, but if you haven’t read it, do so. It is often censored and would make a good read for “Banned Books Week.”

Add comment May 15, 2009

This Full House
by Virginia Euwer Wolff

LaVaughn, a high school senior, is finally seeing her hard work pay off . She’s just been accepted to WIMS (Women in Medical Science), a prestigious after-school program for girls from impoverished areas of the city. At first, Dr. Moore, the program’s founder, takes a special interest in LaVaughn and agrees to write her a college recommendation letter. But when LaVaughn uncovers a dark secret from Dr. Moore’s past, their relationship quickly turns sour—and LaVaughn sees her chance at a college education “falling through the air.”

JLG Review: Told in verse, this final novel in Virginia Euwer Wolff ’s acclaimed Make Lemonade trilogy is a tender rumination on the themes of motherhood, responsibility, and endurance.

From the beginning, readers have known LaVaughn to be a studious go-getter, a young girl determined to rise above her circumstances and attend college. In This Full House, LaVaughn’s goal is finally in sight, but several women in her life—each dealing with the consequences of an unplanned pregnancy—test her focus and temporarily send her moral compass spinning.

This Full House never offers easy answers.  Throughout the trilogy, LaVaughn’s tenacity has made her unique, but it’s her capacity to face ambivalence, self-doubt, and change that makes her a true heroine—a character worth growing with and toward.

NOTE: COHS Titans–The above review is excerpted from the Junior Library Guild. (Meaning that I didn’t write it and don’t want to take credit from something I didn’t do!) We belong to the Junior Library Guild and purchase four books from them each month, so we have access to these reviews. I’m going to start posting excerpts from the reviews in the hope that you will see what great books we get from JLG–and come check them out! If you want to read the whole review, ask your English teacher. I have made copies for him or her to post in the classroom.

Ms. W

April 14, 2009

“A New Life” by Ramsey Campbell

For senior students who are reading “Frankenstein” and then comparing it to other works of fiction, “A New Life” is a great story. I understand that those of you in Mrs. Gebhart’s class have read it.

Campbell’s fiction takes “Frankenstein” and looks at the story from the point of view of the ‘monster’—who isn’t a monster at all, but rather, the brain and intellect of a serious philosopher placed in a body that feels too big, “bloated.” The philosopher—who taught in a university and reflects on Pythagoras, Plato, Kant, von Herder, and Goethe—had tried to save a little girl from drowning in the Danube and himself drowned in the effort. Upon awakening in a pitch-dark cell, he moves through a series of thoughts. Is he alive and saved? Is he dead? Is he in hell, with demons coming in to torture him?

Anxiety turns to deep fear of his condition. This works well with the ethical questions on ‘creating life’ that you are being asked as you study “Frankenstein.” After reading about the philosopher turned monster, I wonder whether you stopped to think about humankind’s responsibility in creating life. Could you discuss these question which you will later debate in class?

1. What is a soul? Does a soul differ from a spirit?

2. Where does a soul come from? Does it only begin to exist at the time of birth, at conception, or possibly before conception? Does it ever cease to exist?

3. Do other animals have souls or are they unique to human beings?

4. In man’s quest to study and manipulate the natural process of reproduction and the creation of life, does man have an ethical or spiritual responsibility to protect, advance, or abstain from scientific experimentation with human life in any form, or should there be no limit to experimentation in the name of science and medical advancement?

March 18, 2009

“The Post-American World” by Fareed Zakaria Perhaps I’m feeling too much like ‘Chicken Little” (“The sky is falling!”), but lately I’ve been drawn to books about the future of both the world and the United States. Thankfully, I’ve generally enjoyed reading them, as I find their assertions to be thought-provoking without being alarmist. I also think that they would be very useful for a debate or an ‘issue’ paper. So it is with “The Post-American World,” a book that provides rich detail about the future of the world and the United States’ place in that future—economic, political and cultural.

I know the author’s work from reading copies of “Newsweek” magazine where Zakaria is an editor and consistently contributes articles on international issues. The title of “The Post-American World” sounds alarming, but Zakaria’s take on the future is very positive—provided that we don’t panic and remember that America has adapted to change before and has learned to excel. Zakaria argues that the United States is not ‘racing to the bottom,’ but that other countries are coming up in the world to be on more equal footing with America—and that’s a good thing because it takes people out of poverty and desperation. Excellent topics of research and discussion in this book include the rise of both India and China. India is an ‘inefficient’ democracy—as all democracies are because people can’t be told what to do by a dictating government. China on the other hand, though embracing capitalism in the last twenty years as an economic system, is still a dictatorship, willing to use brutal tactics in the name of progress and efficiency. Zakaria shows the reader why ‘inefficient democracies’ can continue to grow and succeed in changing times.

Another topic that would make a great argument for a history class project is what the United States should do to secure its future (and how it must be unlike Britain of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries)–not as a unipolar world power but as a legitimate broker of world power, the ally that is the hub in a wheel of nations, connected to the US through spokes of diplomacy.

January 21, 2009

“And You Invited Me In” by Cheryl Moss Tyler

I’m writing a blurb on this novel not because it’s got terrific writing, but because the story is one I’ve wanted to read—or at least see available—for a long time. I’ve often thought about the moral dilemma it presents and how various parties would react.

One of the protagonists, Alex Marshall, is a gay man dying of AIDS in 1994. In the 1980s, as a young man, he ran away from home and his community of fundamentalist Christians in Hallton, Wisconsin because he couldn’t face them and the truth about himself. After a period of wildness, he settles down with his partner, Scott, and becomes a lawyer who is active in the gay community. Other than at his father’s funeral, he hasn’t seen his family members since he left for Atlanta.

Annie Whitley, another of the book’s protagonists, is Alex’s sister. She’s shocked when he calls her out of the blue, and asks her to care for him as he is dying of AIDS. Her church and community hold a stance of keeping away from bad influences—and they regard Alex as just that. Yet, Annie had always loved her brother and believes that a Christian should have unconditional love for others. With this in mind, her husband encourages her to go care for Alex.

The novel details Annie’s discomfort in living with a gay couple and the gay couple’s discomfort in living with someone who judges them as sinners bound for hell. Both parties soon recognize how important they are to one another, how much they love one another. With this, Annie decides to bring both Scott and Alex back to Hallton. The community squares off—those who oppose this, believing the devil is taking over Annie’s goodness, and those who are there to support Annie, remembering how they loved Alex when he was young. And, of course, other secrets of the town’s most upstanding members start to come out.

So, this is a good story about opposing values and how people can accept one another without necessarily condoning one another’s behavior. (FYI—there’s nothing in here that’s beyond a PG-13 rating. Very mild stuff, intended for conservative Christians.) The one problem I had with the novel is that, frequently, the characters talked as though they were reading paragraphs from an essay. That is, they were just mouthpieces for the two philosophical points of view, and didn’t sound like real people. Overall, though, it’s worth reading as it deals with the basic Christian tenets of reconciliation and forgiveness.

January 8, 2009

“In Our Own Best Interest: How Defending Human Rights Will Help Us All” by William F. Schulz

“In Our Own Best Interest” is a great choice for students concerned about global issues, students who care about what happens to other people and students who are writing or debating on any controversial issue related to these themes—public health and access to it, economic policies, environmental policies and human rights at home and abroad. The author, who was the Executive Director of Amnesty International USA when he wrote the book, obviously believes that people have a moral obligation to care about others. However, the book itself moves beyond this argument to detail the many ‘selfish’ reasons—practical reasons—that working for others’ rights benefits us. Don’t skip the introductions (yes, there are more than one!) because Schulz discusses his interaction with high school students.

In Schulz’s words, here’s what he hopes to achieve with the book:

“I propound here no grand new theory of international relations nor offer revelations about human rights that are unavailable to the avid reader of high-quality newspapers. Rather, this book is intended to reframe the debate about human rights for the intelligent layperson who wants to understand the role of human rights play in the United States and it people. It is designed to take the human rights debate out of the hands of ‘experts’ (on both sides) and make it accessible to the average American. After all, their interests are really at stake here, and it is they who will pay the highest price for American indifference. . . .

“Second, the human rights I treat herein are the traditional civil and political ones, like the right to vote, to express opinions without fear of retaliation, to demand a fair trial, to be free from torture.”

The book includes an appendix that is a directory of human rights organizations.

If you are doing research on human rights, global climate change, foreign policy, economic policy, or the changing business and economic map of the world, other good books to check out (whether you agree with their arguments or wish to refute them!) are “The World is Flat” and “Hot, Flat and Crowed” by Thomas L. Friedman; and “The Post-American World” by Fareed Zakaria. I’m hoping to write a little review of each very soon.

January 7, 2009


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