Wednesday, April 09, 2008

1984 is more relevant than ever

I started teaching 1984 by George Orwell to the seniors this week. I know they have just over a month of school to go (last day is the 21st of May) but I still find it to be the one book that school teaches that is referenced on a daily basis in the news. I get Yahoo! email alerts every day with some kind of reference to "Big Brother," "Orwellian," or "1984." Every day.

It's now more relevant than ever, especially with the protests going on with the Olympic torch and the Beijing Olympics. Talking about World War II seems way too old for these kids, yet showing them a quick CNN video about Chinese military arresting protestors in Tibet just last week makes it more relevant:

Also, I found a way to specifically show how China blocks web access to its dirty little secrets, effectively erasing history. This is the Wikipedia page on 1989's Tiananmen Square: If you go to this website called Websitepulse at and plug that Wikipedia address into the box, it tests the server from two locations, one in Seattle, one in Shanghai. Guess what? The Shanghai one returns in empty response from inside China. They have effectively erased that piece of history from people within China. Just like 1984.

Then we watched a few cool YouTube videos that came up in my research:

This is the original Macintosh 1984 ad:

This is a new version that portrays Hillary Clinton as Big Brother! Perfect! (Even though I was very careful to mention to the kids that I was just showing how powerful these ideas are, even in present day situations--I never talk about my personal political affiliations in the classroom.) Notice that the end says, although I do not believe this was an official Obama ad--it was probably done by an overzealous Obama supporter.

1984 is probably more relevant today for trying to preventthese types of things from happening than ever before.

On a sidenote, the English Department chair at my first teaching gig at South Kitsap High School always lauded the ubiquitous references in popular culture of Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter. It was the only single novel that was mandated to be taught in that high school--absolutely no choice in the matter. I personally believe in its power, but perhaps at a later date in life, after kids have lived a bit, kids who have no idea about the permanence of marriage, the concept of adultery, about passion in general. I hated that book in high school, kids still hate the book in high school; however, I absolutely loved it when I reread it at the age of thirty in order to teach it. I personally believe that 1984 is a more appropriate novel to mandate. The political conversations alone that I am getting into with the seniors, all of whom now are at least 18 years of age--voting age, is more completely worthwhile than The Scarlet Letter.

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