Monday, March 25, 2013

Teaching The Hunger Games

This post deviates from the format of most of my posts.  It's not about an experience I've had recently.  It's simply my opinions and thoughts on a book I happen to be reading with my students.  If you've never read The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins and/or never seen the movie, this post may not make much sense, and I apologize for that.  But if you have, feel free to leave a comment and let me know whether you think I'm overreacting or whether you agree.

This quarter, I’m teaching The Hunger Games in 7th grade.  It’s the second year I’ve taught the book, and I absolutely love the unit.  

My unit plan is based on a unit a friend of mine taught and shared with me during our student teaching seminar, my last year in college.  I’ve modified her plans because she originally taught the book to high schoolers, so some of what she did (and the pace she did it at) had to be scaled back.  But I like her ideas, and as I’ve become more familiar with the book, I see more and more topics and themes for discussion.

This year, in an effort to make my unit even better, I’ve been searching online for more resources to share with my students, and more activities to do with them.  There’s one activity that keeps coming up, and it troubles me a bit.

Now that The Hunger Games has been made into a movie and is wildly popular, more and more teachers are choosing to teach the book in their classrooms.  In an effort to bring the book to life, it seems that several of them are creating their own Hunger Games simulations with their students. 

Now, of course these teachers have the good sense to take the killing aspect out of the games.  Most of them have their “tributes” compete at non-violent activities such as running, camouflage, and agility (obstacle course) training.  They have reaping ceremonies, and create propaganda to sell their “tributes” to the audience and gain them sponsors. 

Gee, that sounds like a lot of fun. 
Such an air of competition and celebration.  Almost like…the Olympics or something.

And that’s where I have a problem.
The Hunger Games are not a fun sporting event.  There is no honor in winning.  There is no honor in being chosen.  The whole thing, from start to finish, is atrocious and horrific. 

That’s what I want my students to take from the book.  I want them to see Katniss’s moral struggles and understand her character, understand why she makes the decisions she does.  I want my students to, essentially, make a pledge to themselves that our society will never devolve into one that would let The Hunger Games exist, if they can help it. 

When students re-enact the book, even in a non-violent way, aren’t they just feeling what it must be like to live the cushy life in the Capitol, betting on competitors without really caring who lives or dies?  Our whole society has already been de-sensitized, as Collins has pointed out in interviews about her inspiration for the book.  My job as a teacher is to bring some of that sensitivity back to my students, to make them look at war, at reality television, at our own bloody history, with new eyes. 

So, while my students may be drawing maps of the arena, writing letters to Katniss or her family members, viewing reality television and analyzing it, and discussing the differences between the book and the movie, they will most definitely not be engaging in their own games or betting on their classmates’ chances of winning or losing.   

1 comment:

  1. I completely agree with you. As you were describing the re-enactment, I was thinking, but that's not a re-enactment at all, because all the students will want to be chosen at the reaping, and there's nothing horrific about it! It's like reading 1984 and re-enacting the torture scenes in a fun and exciting way. Our society has become de-sensitized, and that kind of activity doesn't help.