Author: Alison McCartney
Roxborough High School
Seminar: 20th Century American Literature
Grade Level: 12
“Orwell feared that the future would be controlled by an all-powerful totalitarian states in a perpetual state of war. This terror was the genesis of Nineteen Eighty-Four, a novel that projected the ghastly post-war age of austerity into the near future” (Rossi, 175).
The theme of the 12th grade English curriculum in Philadelphia centers on the role of the individual in society and mainly incorporates British and World Literature. A required reading for this curriculum is George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, a piece that both reflects the concerns of the society in which it was written and the concerns for future societies should the same path be followed.
When teaching Nineteen Eighty-Four in the past, I found that students often had difficulty relating to and comprehending many of the main ideas and societal critiques in the book. On the other hand, I find that many of my students are relatively political, especially when it comes to racism, equality and being treated fairly, but often do not know enough about history, politics and current events to back up their assertions and beliefs. While aspects of Nineteen Eighty-Four are dated, I believe it is still relevant to the world today. This unit would help students make connections between their own lives and personal knowledge, current events and political issues, and the themes of equal human rights, freedom of thought and the individual vs. the state in Nineteen Eighty-Four.
In addition, I found that students also lost interest quickly in the book because of its dense language and lengthy descriptions. Orwell spends the first third of the book setting the stage, describing the totalitarian world in which Winston lives. This lack of action and difficult language causes students to give up on reading early in the novel, instead of continuing to read until the plot picks up. To maintain student interest, the Nineteen Eighty-Four unit will place a heavy emphasis on students’ own thoughts and beliefs, their reactions to Winston’s world and their opinions of what an ideal society should be like. If students are able to create, explain and support their opinions of the world in Nineteen Eighty-Four, their engagement and investment in the novel will increase.
The School District of Philadelphia places Nineteen Eighty-Four in a unit under the theme “When and how is literature political?” In order to help students compare and contrast the issues, themes and ideas in Nineteen Eighty-Four with today, students will examine different political and current issues throughout the unit. Reading and analyzing the novel through a political lens will also serve to reinforce and support the School District of Philadelphia’s Senior Social Science curriculum, allowing students to make connections across curriculum. In addition, allowing students to analyze and debate issues and ideas in Nineteen Eighty-Four, compare them to current events and policies, and debate them with classmates will reinforce their study of social science, engage them in the reading, and help them to become involved citizens.
Download Unit: 07.05.08.pdf