I know The Hunger Games first hit the streets in 2008 but I have to admit that, at the time, the violent storyline horrified me and I refused to read it or allow my children to read it. I had friends who read the trilogy and loved it but it was only in the last few weeks that I read the first chapter of the first book and found myself unable to put the book down until I’d finished it. I then had to borrow the remaining books from a friend and read them. Then I began to think about what made the series so popular, not only for me but for other readers, particularly teenagers who made the trilogy and the films so far spurned from it such a success and what place it might have in the secondary school classroom.
I found an interesting and very insightful article by Amy Basbas, entitled Collins “on fire”: Teaching cultural literacy through The Hunger Games, which I would like to discuss as part of this blog. Like the works of Bradbury, Orwell and Golding, Collin’s dystopic novels present a vivid and frightening future in order to warn humanity to wake up and act before it’s too late. Texts by the former authors are widely taught in classrooms,but Basbas suggests that The Hunger Games should also have a place because it is a text that “fosters both student engagement and cultural literacy” (Basbas, 2012, p.1).
Basbas discusses teenagers’ attraction to reality tv shows and the difficulties the prevalence of these causes for them in terms of working out what is real and not real, true and untrue (as Katniss and Peeta struggle with in the third novel). She suggests that using dystopian novels like The Hunger Games in the classroom, can provide students with the “freedom to explore things that bother (them) in comtemporary times…issues like the vast discrepancy of wealth, the power of television and how it’s used to influence our lives, the possibility that the government could use hunger as a weapon…the issue of war” (Basbas, 2012, p.2).
She suggests the integration of young adult literature into the curriculum to promote a lifelong love of reading and to foster cultural literacy, arguing that allowing students to study this literature in the classroom can turn reluctant readers into successful readers because they discover the joy of reading and get hooked. In addition to this benefit she believes another benefit of dystopian novels like The Hunger Games for youth is they enable them to take a break from their media-saturated lives and provide them with “a springboard to analyse the world around them” (Basbas, 2012, p. 4). Even though the students lack the pre-existing knowledge of the dystopian world, their knowledge of their own world enables them to bring to the novel enough material to analyse the particular aspect of their own society on which the novel is commenting. What these novels teach goes way beyond the world of the novel itself, offering critique relevant to much wider global issues relevant to all cultures. Thus they assist students to develop cultural literacy (Basbas, 2012, p.5).
Basbas also sees the academic value in the use of the novel in the classroom, arguing that it is “an excellent choice for secondary school readers who hold our future in their hands” because it encourages them to critically examine “the real-life threat of reality television (and such) issues as the current escalations of technology, government control, and countries that commit atrocities against their own people all over the world” (Basbas, 2012, p.5). By dialoging with these issues in the text students learn to communicate their ideas effectively, a crucial skill of literacy.
What I am learning from this course reinforces the argument here that “the popularity of a novel should not dismiss its value as a learning tool (that) allows readers to scrutinize the world around them and look to the future with a critical eye” (Basbas, 2012, p.6). Many teachers who successfully incorporate popular culture into their curriculum seem to be finding that students respond positively and their learning is enhanced. My ten year-old daughter’s teacher has found that since her class began a trial of ipad use (ipads were supplied to all students in her year group), she has been amazed at the growth she has witnessed in knowledge and skills in her students as they use the technology in the classroom to learn. In this world where there is such a focus on technology though, perhaps it is even more important to be offering students novels to read that really engage them on a personal level, not only to give them a love for reading and an ability to communicate effectively about cultural issues but also to make the study of English relevant and enjoyable in their world.
Basbas, Amy. (2012) Collins “On Fire”: Teaching Cultural Literacy through The Hunger Games. Insight: Rivier Academic Journal, Vol.8, No. 2, Autumn. Accessed on 25/8/14. https://www.rivier.edu/journal/ROAJ-Fall-2012/J682-Basbas-Teaching-Cultural-Literacy.pdf