Is it 1984 yet?

Amritas wonders about the timing of the campaign sponsored by the National Council of Teachers of English.

The National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) is sponsoring a nationwide reading and discussion of George Orwell’s classic novel 1984 this October. Educators and students in high schools, colleges, and universities, and citizens in libraries, community organizations, and book discussion groups are invited to read the book and discuss its prophetic nature and what it might teach us about life in the contemporary United States.

Actually, I think George Orwell would have been able to tell the difference between Osama bin Laden and John Ashcroft.

About Joanne

Comments

  1. Amritas’s concerns may be misplaced. The students’ idea of Big Brother would likely be someone closer to home than the White House.

  2. Walter E. Wallis says:

    Suppose they would offer an alternative on Animal Farm? I suppose I will be happy if they can read anything, since the more they read the closer they will come to my world view.

  3. …Actually my nominee for the title Big Brother would be the CTA’s Wayne Johnson, who used to run blatant propaganda ads on radio which masqueraded as public service announcements.

  4. If anything, reading 1984 makes one more supportive of Bush’s preemption doctrine.. I recently read it again and was struck at its relevance to the War on Terror. Totalitarianism is totalitarianism whether religious or secular.

  5. Wish they would read some of Orwell’s essays, also (or instead). The essay on political language would seem like it should be very relevant to English teachers.

    Actually, it seems sort of strange to focus on a *fictional* totalitarian society when memoirs from so many *real* ones are available.

  6. Michael says:

    Walter, the smart ones won’t.

  7. Bart,

    “The students’ idea of Big Brother would likely be someone closer to home than the White House.”

    That never occurred to me because when I first read the novel at age 12, I saw Orwell’s world as a prophecy for America. I’ve never thought of it from a family standpoint. Has anyone read the book as an adolescent and equated Big Brother with one or both parents?

  8. Amritas, I’m not sure I saw Bart’s remark as implying Big Brother as a familial allegory; rather, that most kids’ primary experience of government is SCHOOL, which obviously is much closer to them than is the White House, and far more likely to be directly heaping political propaganda on them.

  9. Walter E. Wallis says:

    The smart ones are already there, Michael.

  10. I always had the impression that Big Brother in 1984 was modeled on Stalin. And it wouldn’t suprise me in the least to learn that Saddam Hussein admired Stalin and modeled himself after him. Think of the pictures of Hussein with the heavy eyebrows and big, dark mustache.

  11. Orwell used his experiences working at the BBC for 1984. So, Stalin might be in the guise of Bill Moyers, these days.

  12. Anonymous says:

    CTA: Chicago Transit Authority?

  13. lindenen says:

    His experience fighting in the Spanish Civil War also informed his writings.

    I never realized how much of our society was dominated by the Left until the offensive this year. It’s impressive.

  14. speedwell says:

    Amritas, I did do more or less what you asked about.

    I read 1984 when I was a freshman in high school (we were the senior class of 1984, coincidentally), and the first thing I thought of was that Big Brother represented parenthood–not necessarily any specific parent–and that the citizens were infantilized.

    It’s not exactly the most sophisticated insight, but hey, I was 13, the youngest member of my class. It was a start.

    And we read Anthem later that year. I need to find my teacher and shake her hand.

  15. Speedwell–you do understand now that 1984 is not abou parenthood, right? Nor is Animal Farm about diversity of farm life.

  16. Eric Brown says:

    I’ve always thought that the West was far more likely to turn into _Brave New World_ than it was to turn into _1984_.

    Odd how nobody teaches _Brave New World_ these days.

  17. Actually, all is not lost. My kids’ (Liberal-leaning) middle school taught both “1984” and “Brave New World”.

  18. lindenen says:

    Actually, in a way it is about parenthood. That’s why they call it the “nanny state”.

  19. Personally, I’d cast my vote for Eugene Zamiatin’s _We_ rather than Orwell’s _1984_ or Huxley’s _Brave New World_. Besides, the history of a manuscript that was circulated by hand for years (before it was published in New York) because it couldn’t be published in the Soviet Union would be an excellent topic for discussion. It would also provide a considerable amount of insight on current attempts (successful or not) by the U.S. and other governments to censor or restrict communication between individuals on the Internet.

  20. I’m surprised anyone left leaning would want any of the major dystopian novels taught. They pretty much all appear to be cautionary tales that highlight the true, vile nature of socialism.

    One can try, I suppose to equate Bush and the evil Republicans with Big Brother, but Ingsoc(English Socialism) wil be a hard point to hide…

  21. Richard Brandshaft says:

    Amritas,
    “How many students will figure out the obvious in October: Bush is Big Brother?”

    Sounds like a good comparison to me. Using the war as an excuse, Bush/Ashcroft are going for all the denial of civil liberties and all-pervasive spying they can get away with. And it’s a lot cheaper than putting enough soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq.

    Perhaps I read more into your comment than was there, but you seem to be saying that being taught to value civil liberties is being taught to oppose Bush and/or conservatives. Whose fault is that? Let me guess: everyone but Bush and the conservatives.

    Ms. Jacobs,
    “I think George Orwell would have been able to tell the difference between Osama bin Laden and John Ashcroft.”

    Yes, but the differences are mainly the societies they were born into. The similarities are certainly worth noting. Both are intensely religious; both use religious doctrine to do all the harm they can. Ashcroft can’t engage in mass slaughter; he has to be content with prolonging the suffering of the terminally ill and withholding anti-nausea medicine from chemotherapy patients. (My which I mean his illegal –according to every court the matter has reached — interference with Oregon’s assisted suicide law, and his blocking California’s medical marijuana law.)

  22. lindenen says:

    Brandshaft has to be joking. Yes, I’m sure that the only thing stopping Ashcroft from perpetrating mass murder is just because “he can’t engage” in it. Good grief…

  23. It’s fascinating how the Bush-haters seek to constantly demonize him by insisting that he’s worse that the vilest individuals they can come up with.

    So Bush is Big Brother? Then why is it the Democrats and the Left who push speech codes so hard, including all the silliness about ‘offensive words’ like “niggardly” and their insistance that disagreement with their views constitutes a ‘hostile environment’?

    Talk about the pot calling the kettle black…

  24. That never occurred to me because when I first read the novel at age 12, I saw Orwell’s world as a prophecy for America. I’ve never thought of it from a family standpoint.

    Neither have I; I was thinking more of the school system, as Dave J says. I was considerably younger than twelve when I figured out that the system wasn’t being run for my benefit, and can remember being frustrated by what could be described as “double-speak”.

    CTA = California Teachers Association, the state NEA affiliate.

  25. James M says:

    I’m going into junior year english (British Lit.)- probably headed for a career in education. I’m an honors track student- meaning I get exposed to the most liberal teachers in the school. If my english teacher decides to have this sponsored reading of 1984 (which I’ve already read) and decides to mention a word of comparison between that and today’s america relating to the Patriot act or to John Ashcroft- essentially foisting liberal views upon students as this “sponsored reading” is meant to do…I’ll be quite upset.

  26. Kids need a bit of healthy paranoia regarding the government and other examples of mob mentality.
    They need to teach all of them:
    Orwell’s “1984” and “Animal Farm”
    Huxley’s “Brave New World”
    Zamyatan’s “We”
    Levin’s “This Perfect Day”
    Rand’s “Anthem”
    Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451”
    Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale”
    John Brunner’s “Shockwave Rider”
    Ursula LeGuin’s “Lefthand of Darkness” and “Dispossessed”
    Thomas Disch’s “Camp Concentration” and “334”
    Those are a few of the ones I have read and can recommend.
    Some people include “A Clockwork Orange”, and “Lord of the Flies” in the list.
    Shari Tepper’s “Gate to Women’s Country” might barely fit in the category.
    Science fiction is full of this type of book.

  27. speedwell says:

    Yes, Rachel, I can say with conviction that in 25 years I did 25 years’ worth of growing up. Why do you ask?

  28. Richard Brandshaft says:

    Claire,
    “…Bush-haters seek to constantly demonize him by insisting that he’s worse that the vilest individuals they can come up with….”

    No, just vile. History has given us a lot worse.

    “…Left who push speech codes so hard…”
    So it’s unfair to hold the President of the United States to higher standards than a few campus kooks. By that standard, I suppose Bush is OK. Thanks for the new understanding of one of the root ways I differ from conservatives. Nice to know I can still learn at my advanced age.

  29. Mark Odell says:

    Richard Brandshaft wrote: So it’s unfair to hold the President of the United States to higher standards than a few campus kooks.

    Is your straw man asking us, or telling us?

Trackbacks

  1. Hube's Cube says:

    MORE SCARE TACTICS

    Joanne Jacobs notes that the National Council of Teachers of English is sponsoring a nationwide reading and discussion of George Orwell’s classic novel 1984 this October. Educators and students in high schools, colleges, and universities, and citizens …