A Plea for Help

*This is cross-posted at A Teacher’s Education, so you’re not seeing double.*

“Working the System, Living the System” is our school-wide theme for the year (we just decided it 10 minutes ago.  We even came up with a catchy tee-shirt logo!).  Here comes my plea for help.

I’m teaching freshmen, juniors, and seniors this year, and I NEED novel and short story ideas that work along the theme of the things we do to make our living and, tangentially, what it means to “make a living.”  I need at least five books for each class.  Here’s what I’ve got so far:

Freshmen – To Kill a Mockingbird (we’ll focus in on the ideas of professional and personal ethics with this), The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (the ways in which the working world of adults is interpreted/misunderstood by children), The Giver (more professional/personal ethics)

Juniors – My Name is Asher Lev (choosing between the things you love and the things you’re expected to do), 1984 (playing – or not – within the system) and The Country of the Pointed Firs (very local flavor (the stories are set in a town literally 6 miles up the street) with a strong emphasis on community and interconnectedness).

Seniors – The Help (there are a million ways to go with this), essays from Studs Terkel’s Working, (oral history, finding value in everyone’s work), Native Son (the ways in which the systems we knowingly and unknowingly perpetuate affect ourselves and others) and A Handmaid’s Tale (again, with the systems).

I am also looking for ways to incorporate The Things They Carried and A Christmas Carol into some or all of the classes, and one of my colleagues is jazzed about The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind as an all-school read.  I’m expecting a copy of Norma Rae from Amazon any day now, and I’m also looking at teaching The Last Samurai for the ways in which it investigates the end of a system of living.

Please, please, PLEASE – if you know any books, films, or short stories that have a strong undercurrent of work and the ethics and values associated with it, send them along!

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8 Comments

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8 responses to “A Plea for Help

  1. improbablejoe

    I dunno… Carter Beats the Devil?

  2. Fahrenheit 451 (doing a job without thinking what its larger consequences are…), excerpts from Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, Inherit the wind (not a great piece of literature, but definitely about ethical choices in one’s job), “What Work Is” by Philip Levine (poem), Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich (about working full time and still being below the poverty line), Enders Game?, Caroline or Change by Tony Kushner…. I’ll keep thinking …. What a fabulous theme…

    • I forgot to mention that I have Nickel and Dimed; I’m planning on scanning excerpts rather than having the students buy their own copies. I believe we have 451 in the book room; Ill look into that. Would that go to freshmen or juniors?

      Also, and not for nothing, but I knew you’d be a great resource!

      • 451 is probably best for freshmen and…. Travels of a T-shirt in a Global Economy by Rivoli (I haven’t read this but a colleague found it a fascinating narrative about the people and places resourced and the global political implications involved in the production of a t-shirt.)…still thinking…

  3. Rowan

    Gathering Blue (the second in the Giver series) and The Messenger (the thrid in the Giver series), especially The Messenger. I think you’ll need to read Gathering Blue first to tie it all together.

  4. I didn’t know there were more books that go with The Giver. I’ll look into them! The Giver goes over pretty well as a first book of the year with freshmen; even if they read it in middle school, we look at it far more thematically in my classes than they likely did before. Thanks!

  5. Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom. An excellent look at what a person does with their lives and how it makes happiness or not, how we affect the people around us.

    Along the same vein as that, The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch – a dying man’s last message, what does living really mean.

    Those are memoirish books, don’t know if that fits you’re criteria but I think everyone should read these books at least once.

  6. Oh I wish I’d thought of Caroline or Change when you first mentioned The Help. Great suggestion!

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