As an English teacher, it never ceases to amaze me how certain topics and themes seem to repeat and re-occur throughout not only the literature that we study, but also these are reflected in current affairs. Studying ‘An Inspector Calls’, JB Priestley’s play warning the audience of the evils of unfettered capitalism in the post-war world, still resonates today with debates around zero-hours contracts, for instance.
This week, revising Margaret Atwood’s 1985 dystopian novel ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ with my Year 12 class, there was a news article about the book. By way of protest about freedom of speech and pro-choice being rescinded or reduced in the USA, the author has created an ‘unburnable’ version of the novel which has sold for $130,000 at auction (all proceeds to charity). This was accompanied by an interesting picture of the 82-year-old writer attempting to burn said book with a flamethrower.
Students might often comment on why we study certain ‘old’ texts or periods of time in history or far-away places in geography. Teachers and Subject Leaders consider these topics and choices very carefully indeed. It was fascinating this week during the Young Faculty review to hear the History, RS and Geography departments discuss and debate why certain units were designed the way that they were and taught when they were across the key stages. It is often through these ‘milestone’ texts, topics and units that we can help students understand not only the past, different beliefs or distant places, but also the world around them now.
Although the fictional events of ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ may seem extreme and detached in some respects, all students can understand and appreciate how a lack of a voice or the right to an opinion can make them feel. By arguing with an educated opinion, we want students to be able to see injustices and challenge them in a way that reflects our core values of excellence and respect, not just throughout their time at school but also when they become citizens in their community at the end of their time with us.