Dystopia or Donald?

Easily my favorite part of each day is the read aloud. It’s a magical time in Room 14. Everyone comes back refreshed from lunch, definitely no lingering recess drama. We all settle in on the carpet, cozy up, and plunge into our sacred world of words. 

We have been reading The Shadow Children series since October. It is a dystopian universe where third children are illegal, outlawed by the government supposedly because of a food shortage; The Famines left the country in ruin. The majority of the population is dirt poor but there are Barons who have special privileges around most laws. Regardless of class, everyone must abide by the Population Law. As a result, third children are hidden by their families – they are shadows. Throughout the series third children from all over the country come out of hiding and face countless dangers as they fight for justice together.

Students are entranced while I read, stuck in a world unlike their own. The audible gasps, the sighs, the collective, “Nooooo!” when I put the bookmark in for the day all tell me that this is time well spent. 

My students are very intelligent. As a group, they are continuously amazing me with their cognitive abilities, their intrigue into real-world issues and connections, their academic discourse among each other and their endless curiosity. As we have been reading this series and studying various topics in history they have truly out done themselves in making real meaning of the text, going deeper than just enjoying the story. The students have been able to draw conclusions, make connections, compare characters and events as well as evaluate social implications. Their conversations have inspired research. Their research has inspired further reading and writing. There is no end to the level of thinking that is driven by this shared time together. 

Recently, there have been a few quotes that the students, and I, have been deeply disturbed by. It started out as a coincidence and it has developed into some kind of strange, parallel universe that we are slightly terrified of. Have a look for yourself at two examples of undeniably nerve-wracking text.

 As one student said last week, “Gross, that just sent chills down my spine.” After I read the line from the second photo the whole class went up in arms. They stopped me from reading so they could express their outrage and confusion and creeped-out-ness. It was a moment that no amount of planning can prepare you for. I read this series every year. This year has had an entirely new layer added to the conversation. 

These kids have been listening to a completely fictional story all year long. They have repeatedly made comments about how unbelievable some elements of this story are. They ask me, like broken records, “Why does he hate third children? There is nothing different about or wrong with them, they are just born third in their family.” You are correct, little ones. Hate is inexplicable. There are no words I can offer you to help you understand why this fictional character you despise suddenly resembles a man in charge of your country. A man you see on television, smiling and spewing hate for anyone who is a different race, sex, religion, class, or of civil opinion than him. A man, so delusional, he preaches of making things great while acting as though he has never experienced anything sensational. For if he had experience with people, thoughts and emotions that differ from his own, he would know what an asset they are instead of fearing them. 

I feel a bit of sorrow that this hallowed time, this cherished text, has become tainted with reality. But I do not feel disheartened by my students ability to see the inequality. I am not apologetic for exposing my students to rich text that makes them think and question and challenge their own thoughts and the ideas of their classmates. I will not water this down and I will not steer their conversations away from politics. I will encourage hard conversations and difficult concepts. I will play Devil’s advocate to push their buttons and light the fire for their beliefs. 

I will not allow voices to be silenced. 


  1. jehansen13 · March 10, 2017

    I love this series…it’s been years since I’ve read them, but I’m bummed that they have those implications now.


  2. maestradl · March 10, 2017

    I haven’t heard of this series but those are really poignant selections. I think art and literature can be some of the most powerful ways for us to see hard truths in our current situation. The ways we identify with characters, feel moved to tears by compassion, etc., help open our hearts. Thanks for your work to support them in opening their hearts and speaking up for justice!


  3. Karyn B · March 10, 2017

    This is amazing. It always excites me to see children becoming engaged in reading. And spending more time at your end of the building has helped to renew my teaching spirit this year. But here this is whole different level stuff. The parrallels are uncanny. And the fact that the youngest among them can see that and are outraged by it, give me hope. It so great the way you are fostering free thinking in your classroom. Keep it up.


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