I know it's been like a wasteland around here lately. I've been so consumed with work! These last couple weeks have been unendingly busy. We've been writing our short stories and I've been gearing up for a unit on The Boy in the Striped Pajamas/Holocaust/injustice/inhumanity/etc. . . don't worry, the essential questions are much clearer than the unit title(s?) . Here they are, please provide feedback:
1. How do our family and our social background shape our values, beliefs and perceptions?
2. If one knows of evil, inhumanity or injustice and does nothing to stop it, is one complicit in it?
3. How can power isolate and dehumanize those who possess it?
4. What does it mean to be a true friend?
Because of the nature of my position at this time, or rather the nature of the positions of others, I made these up myself without dialoguing with a single soul besides mom (thanks, mom) so please provide any thoughts you might have about them--constructive criticism is very welcome.
I'm so excited about question number three. Paulo Freire, a.k.a. my hero, wrote that when people who are oppressed resist their oppressor, it is in fact an act of love--they are in fact making the oppressor more human. So that must mean that somewhere along the way, the oppressor became less human. Certainly when people yield power to oppress others, they are dehumanized by their own actions and by the thought processes (or lack thereof?) that drive the actions. Bruno's father in the book is certainly isolated and in some ways can be seen as dehumanized--one instance of his dehumanization is when he tells Bruno that the people on the other side of the fence aren't people at all. One would, in my book, simply have to be dehumanized in order to make a statement like that.
Essential question two relates to the complicity of Bruno's mother and grandfather in the persecution of the Jews. I want to touch on the grandmother's resistance to her son's position and the fact that it didn't really matter because she was not only a female but an old one and so had no power in the Nazi society. This also raises the question of whether Bruno's mother's resistance, had she resisted, could have possibly even mattered or changed a thing. It's a tangled, nuanced web. . . and one that needs to be explored.
I'm so-so on question four. The friendship theme needs to be touched on. . . I don't want to be discouraging, but I really want to get to the heart of the matter and ask the students whether or not two people can really be true friends when one is of the oppressor group and the other of the oppressed. I'm afraid the answers we will come to will either be too simplistic or too depressing. . . and I'm also unsure of whether I'm asking the right question at all. When it comes down to it, Bruno, I believe, can't really be Shmuel's real friend. He betrays Shmuel when he tells a soldier that he had never seen him before. He is arrogant and insensitive and doesn't listen to Shmuel or try to empathize with his sorrows. And whether you are 9 or 90, that's just not being a good friend. But then we have the ending. . . so I'm just not sure. Maybe the question I have is just broad enough, anyhow. Or maybe not.
In other news. . .
We also began our PERSONAL SPELLING LISTS! Our weekly word studies now consist of our own 5 words. Everyone's words are different according to their individual spelling needs. It's based off of Atwell's program, which is adapted from Rebecca Sitton's process though without the class-wide lists. And I'm committing to doing at least 4 words a week, too. The kids are so pumped about it. I talked for a while about how the purpose of the program switch was to align what I am teaching with their needs, that it's my job to meet their needs, that I'm going to teach them how to learn these words, and on and on and on and I think they got it. My once-believed brilliant Word Study of the past, comprised of 5 words that centered on a root, was simply not doing it for us--I had way too many consistent C's and even. . . dare I. . . D's and plenty of A's. But no B's and no one getting better. No improvement. So they completely understand that the shift is for them and that it's up to them to put in the amount of work needed to improve as spellers. Almost every single student got 4/5 or 5/5 words correct on their first quiz. Good stuff, folks. Good stuff.