When I became a teacher, I was young and idealistic and determined never to become like some old teachers I know, determined to keep in touch with the ones I teach, determined never to succumb to the old "Young people nowadays are just so [insert derogative adjective here].
Now, I know what it feel like to hold up a mirror to society - and society's just not interested.
I'm currently reading "Fahrenheit 451" with my Year 13. That's the ones who are about to finish their education at Grammar School and call themselves Germany's elite.
Fahrenheit 451, as you probably know, is about a society in which books are burned and people have no desire for any profound information, but prefer light entertainment via television walls, provided by a totalitarian government that wishes to keep people shallow and politically immature. The book was written fifty years ago. That dystopian vision has long become reality. Just that there's no need to burn our books. We simply leave them to rot on our shelves.
I started to develop characterizations for the novel's main characters, and quickly found out that only a handful of students were participating. When I started asking slightly more inquisitively, it turned out that out of twenty students, only two had read the novel, one of them in German instead of English. The others had just entered "Fahrenheit 541 summary" into Google.
It turned out they weren't even abashed. For them, it was the most logical thing in the world to be set a reading assignment, and then to go online and read a two-paragraph summary on the internet. AND FEEL THAT THEY HAD DONE THEIR DUE.
Just last week, I was teaching my Year 8 how to write a summary, and for practice, I told them to write summaries to two books of their choice.
The next day, two students put up their hands, and with a straight face and every conviction that this was a valid excuse, told me that they had found themselves unable to complete the task, as they had never read a book in their lives.
We are talking about Grammar School students here.
My five-year old son knows off more books by heart than those kids have read in their thirteen years.
Welcome to the world without books. Welcome to the world that believes BBC documentaries are History, that entire novels can be compressed without loss to a 300 word summary on edu-server.com, and that the time saved by not reading can go into the really important things - TV.
It didn't even take a totalitarian government to get us to this place. We did it all by ourselves.
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