We're reading a novel called Bang! with the 8th graders. Lukie got the book through a grant which donated sufficient copies for us to give each student their own. She's been itching to get it into the classroom all year, but until we finished the mandated City pacing guide that wasn't possible. The kids love the book, which is about guns and city violence and youth. Many are reading ahead and asking questions about the moral ramifications of choices people make.
I don't know why we have to read stuff like The Giver, which the kids hated and to which they could not relate. I mean, I'm all for using a variety of books to teach literary analysis skills--but our kids are 8th graders who read at a fifth grade level. They need materials that engage them, books that will interest them in reading. I don't think, frankly, that we should teach literary analysis skills (characterization, theme, plot) until the kids can freakin' read at grade level. We're doing them a dis-service by asking them to analyze characterization in a book like The Giver when they can barely read it.
But anyhow, today we're watching an episode of The Simpsons in class, called "The Cartridge Family."* The kids know a lot about guns and gun violence obviously, but they don't know much about guns as a controversial political issue. I want them to know about the NRA and gun control legislation, etc, and this seems a good place to start. I may show them Bowling for Columbine in whole or in part later (though the logical fallacies are irksome Moore's movie is good for starting dialogue and debate). I also want to talk about how kids get killed in the cities all the time, but when a school shooting happens in the 'burbs we have national news coverage for weeks, and the implications of this.
A funny story I never mentioned here: Nat came to class with a huge bandage wrapped around his left wrist.
Me: What happened to your hand?
Nat: The police beat me up.
Me: Really? What happened?
Nat: They said I stole something.
Me: They beat you up for stealing something?
Nat: Nah. They was chasing me for stealing a scooter. But I didn't steal it, someone gave it to me.
Lukie: Did the person who gave you the scooter steal it?
Nat: Yeah. I cut my hand on a gate.
Me: A gate?
Nat: Yeah, one of those metal things around a yard with the spikes on top.
Me: A fence.
Nat: Yeah. I tried to jump it and the spike went through my hand.
Me: And the police beat you up?
Nat: Nah. They actually helped get my hand off the fence.
*The kids like Family Guy better.