Friday, March 21, 2014

A Natural Selection

Very early in my teacher training, it was impressed upon me just how awful tracking can be. You know, the way schools used to steer kids in a particular direction, depending on their skills or aptitudes. This kind of social engineering was seen as defeating in a number of different ways, starting with self-esteem and radiating outward. Which students should make paths to engineering and science? Which should start polishing their resumes for that job at Burger King? Starting at ten years old? After seventeen years, I still don't consider myself a shrewd enough judge of character and abilities to make this kind of discernment.
Some time ago, Charles Darwin used the term "divergent" to describe a "process by which an interbreeding population or species diverges into two or more descendant species, resulting in once similar or related species to become more and more dissimilar." We are about to be treated to another film adaptation of a young adult novel called, you guessed it, "Divergent." It tells the story of a dystopian future in which people are divided into five distinct factions based on their personalities. Those who do not fit into one of these narrow categories are considered, wait for it, divergent. They are the ones who apparently stir up all the trouble. At least enough to make a move about.
Some are comparing this tale to "The Hunger Games," a series of books and companion films that tell the story of a dystopian future in which young men and women offer themselves up as tributes for their region during a selection process called "the Reaping." Then these contestants go on to play the games referred to in the title, with only one survivor. Pitting teenagers against one another in a fight to the death seems a little less civilized than putting the ones who can't read into shop class, but not much.
And where does one go to avoid such pigeonholing? Not at Hogwarts. In the world of Harry Potter, you are designated on day one as a member of one of four houses. When my family took a tour of Potter memorabilia at Warner Brothers Studio, my son was in tears at the notion that the Sorting Hat might shove him into Slytherin. Good luck getting a job anywhere but the dark side with that one on your permanent record
I'm thinking of writing my own series of novels for young adults. This one will pit the Band Kids against the Smokers. I think it's going to be a big, big hit.

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