I doubt I would have found The Giver had it not been required reading for two of my nephews. One read it as a class assignment in seventh grade; for the other it was read aloud in fifth grade. Intrigued, I borrowed the book from our library.The Giver makes me wish I belonged to a literary discussion group. Without a doubt there is plenty here to discuss, and I can see why teachers might be eager to share this Newbery Award winner with their classes. I would love to talk about it in a group, to toss about various interpretations and implications. And yet, despite the "young adult" designation, despite the fact that the main character has not yet reached his teens, I question the value of such a book in the elementary or middle school curriculum.
My friends and family know all too well how strongly I believe children are much more capable than we give them credit for, and are all too familiar with my rants about how society—especially school—holds them back, does not respect them, and deprives them of important opportunities for growth and learning. Certainly a 10-year-old could contribute intelligently to a discussion of The Giver, if he had the background and experience. However, modern American education—which definition I extend backwards at least as far as my own experience—will rarely if ever allow such a child to develop. To speak intelligently on the serious issues that emerge from this book requires more knowledge of history, philosophy, religion, literature, and ethics than many adults possess. Without such a background, how can a discussion rise above the level of the readers' feelings?
I'm reminded of the first Gulf War, during which our local elementary schools made a point of engaging their students in discussions about the war, querying them on such issues as why we were fighting and whether or not the war was justified. What, other than confusion and a false sense of self-importance, can come from asking such questions of people who know nothing of history, let alone economics, politics, and religion?
Before we ask our children to wrestle with life's difficulties, ambiguities, and moral dilemmas, let them have a strong course of history and logic, at least. To do otherwise is to send them unarmed into mortal combat.