Reading The Game of Thrones in Class: Should It Be Allowed

song of ice and fire coversWe’ve had a bit of controversy come up in the past month, as students have been selecting their winter term projects to complete. As you know, the Montessori philosophy is to allow our students to be strong forces in the shaping of their own educational path, with the core belief that when a student chooses to learn, the knowledge he gains will be more powerful and last him his entire life, whereas the student who is forced to learn merely crams for the next exam.

This is a sound philosophy, in principle, but in practice brings up details that can be difficult to maintain.

For their winter projects, 10th grade English students were asked to choose works with medieval themes. Historically, this has led from as varied choices as Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales to Shakespeare’s Macbeth to Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.

Quite the varied list of styles indeed.

This year, however, we had several students submit proposals of a different nature: for A Game of Thrones, the popular series by George RR Martiin.

What Is A Game of Thrones?

A Game of Thrones is the title of the first novel in George RR Martin’s medieval fantasy series, A Song of Ice and Fire. The books take place in the fictional island kingdom of Westeross, which certainly has allusions to the British medieval kingdom.

The books have enjoyed immense popularity since their inception, and two more are still pending publishing, for a total of 7 works. The novels have been popularized even further by the HBO series of the same name.

You can find the Game of Thrones books from www.georgerrmartin.com or download A Dance with Dragons audiobook, the latest work in the A Song of Ice and Fire audiobook series, from http://agameofthronesaudiobook.com.

Is This Appropriate?

If you’re familiar with the works, you know that there is a huge issue about whether these works are appropriate for a high school reader.

The issue, in our minds, isn’t that they aren’t considered part of the “traditional” literary canon (after all, how can a new novel be considered “traditional”?) but that they deal with a number of adult themes, and do so very vividly.

The novels contain everything from beheadings to incestuous relationships to rape to harems to torture, mind control, and sexual bigotry.

Are those messages we want to be sending our kids, or should we be teaching them how to respond to these aspects of life?

Unfortunately, there’s no clear answer, but we’ve decided to allow the submissions with written parent approval.

Have You Read The Lord of the Rings Trilogy?

lord of the rings books

After receiving feedback from a number of our students and parents about the Fifty Shades of Grey Challenge we initiated for our students, encouraging our teenagers to read the entire series between now and the return from holiday break, we’ve decided to add a second option: The Lord of the Rings.

We found that many of our male students were not willing to participate in the Fifty Shades challenge, because the series is targeted primarily at the female audience.

Likewise, The Lord of the Rings Trilogy is popular mainly among male students, so combining the two into the same challenge seems to be a natural fit.

The Fellowship of the Ring

The first and arguably the most important book of the series is The Fellowship of the Ring. In case you haven’t read it or seen the movies, the book takes place in a mythical world known as Middle Earth, where there is a weak alliance between the kingdoms of men, elves, and dwarves.The book opens on a peaceful area known as The Shire, where hobbits thrive, and Gandalf the Grey wizard invites Frodo Baggins on an epic journey. Though he doesn’t know it yet, his mission will take him across the world to destroy an evil ring of power.Download The Fellowship of the Ring audiobook free from The Lord of the Rings Audiobooks website to get started!

The Two Towers

The Two Towers continues the story as the Fellowship, the group of travelers bound together to destroy the ring, split apart, and war brims on the horizon.Most of this novel shows an escalating of the themes and conflicts presented in the first, with more information revealed about how Mordor is gaining its strength and preparing to attack the kingdoms of men.While the rest of the world prepares for battle, Frodo and Sam continue forward towards Mordor to destroy the ring.

The Return of the King

In the last novel of the trilogy, The Return of the King sees the culmination of the earlier works. The war continues to rage as Mordor attacks Gondor, and Aragorn must assume his role as rightful heir to unite the divisions among men and reinstate the old allegiances with the elves and dwarves in order to have a chance at winning the war.Frodo and Sam finally make it to Mordor, and fight to get the ring to the volcanic interior of Mount Doom, where they must destroy it!

This trilogy is perhaps the most important fantasy series of all time, and is still the bestselling trilogy of the genre. It’s a must read for anyone interested in these types of themes, and there’s plenty of literary intrigue to dissect and discuss as well! See this article in the New Yorker for more suggestions.

You’d better start reading boys, you have some catching up to do! This series, while fun, playful, and adventurous, is quite a long trilogy! We will accept submissions from reading any one of the unabridged books of the series, or for reading the entire abridged series over the course of the challenge period!

Fifty Shades of Grey Challenge

Fifty-Shades-of-Grey-768While our younger readers are powering their way through the Harry Potter books, we decided to set a second challenge this year for 11th and 12th grade students: The Fifty Shades of Grey series.

Fifty Shades of Grey is a powerful and intense trilogy by author E.L. James. The series, while deemed controversial and inappropriate for teens by some critics, takes a deep look into the coming of age stories of contemporary adolescents, replete with their sexual awakenings.

The series is an international best seller, and has even been turned into a major motion picture by Hollywood.

Why the Fifty Shades Series

Although some would argue that Fifty Shades of Grey doesn’t belong in a school, we at scvmontessori disagree. We believe that education follows from inspiration, and the fact is that the immense popularity of these books both in the US and Europe is evidence that teens are passionate about the subjects they contain.

Rather than hide from these works, we should embrace them. The subject matter is no different than that portrayed in many other classic works, from The Scarlet Letter to Pride and Prejudice to Ulysses.

The difference lies only in the fact that these novels are set in a contemporary setting, and have been popularized by the generation.

Focusing this year’s challenge on the Fifty Shades of Grey series will help us to have open and honest discussions with our 11th and 12th graders, as they come into adulthood and are dealing with the issues and complexities addressed in the novels.

There’s a great discussion around teaching controversial literature in this journal.

About the Challenge

This challenge is an extracurricular challenge, and is not a specific class assignment.

Students in the 11th and 12th grades are strongly encouraged to read this series during their holiday breaks. The challenge begins next week, with the advent of the Thanksgiving holiday, and ends with the return to school the first week of January.

There are no formal assignments or coursework dependent upon completion of the challenge, but we will have a program in early January to discuss opinions of the works, and how their themes can be applied to our students’ lives.

You can download the Fifty Shades of Grey audiobook free from fiftyshadesofgreyaudiobooks.com, or click here to buy the series at Barnes and Noble.

A Very Magical Winter: Harry Potter through the Seasons!

harry potter booksThis November, we’re kicking off a new event to encourage our kids to keep reading through the holiday season, even though they won’t be in class.

Our theme for this year is going to be A Very Magical Winter: Harry Potter through the Seasons, as we celebrate one of the greatest and best-selling children’s series of all time.

Why Harry Potter

Harry Potter is a great series for our children to be reading this year. We’re at the point now that these books have become a modern day classic, and the best part about them is that they’re appropriate for such a wide range of ages.

For our younger students, we encourage parents to read along and help them through the text, but we feel that most of our students should be able to manage the books on their own.

The first novels of the series are easier, and most appropriate for children middle school age or younger, while the later books deal with a number of more complex themes appropriate for high school aged learning.

Regardless of what age or which book you choose, it’s sure to be fun for everyone!

What To Do

Every child should choose at least one Harry Potter book to read during their spare time over Thanksgiving or the upcoming winter break. Ideally, everyone will have the chance to read multiple books.

We’re also going to have a series competition, where students can choose to take the plunge and read all seven of the JK Rowling Harry Potter books. If you opt for this challenge, your job is to finish the entire series by the return to school the first week of January.

We’ll have special prizes for those who finish.

Prior to break, we’ll also be having a few “magical” holiday events, including a small quidditch tournament!

Click here to download the Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets audiobook or the Harry Potter and Prisoner of Azkaban audiobook from http://harrypotteraudiobooks.org or grab the book series from Barnes and Noble!

Here’s a sneak peek at our favorite holiday scene from the movies!

The Benefits of a Montessori Education

One of our primary missions here at SCV, in addition to providing resources to existing Montessori schools and teachers, is advocacy for the Montessori cause more generally.

We believe that there are too many drawbacks to our current system of education globally, and a better solution is required. This is particularly evident in the United States where, despite it being one of the “most developed” and “wealthiest” nations on the planet, students struggle to master basic educational concepts, particularly in the math and sciences.

While we encourage a healthy debate over any new or proposed system of education, we believe that the Montessori philosophy has a few distinct advantages over most other educational systems in practice today.

Advantages of a Montessori Curriculum

  1. montessori curriculumStudents are encouraged to self-asses. Self-assessment is one of the most important skills an individual can have. Under the Montessori system, students learn how to set goals and evaluate themselves against those goals, a process of thinking that will stay with them throughout their lives.
  2. Students must seek their own knowledge. While there is a clear curriculum and mandatory requirements in Montessori programs, students are empowered by having the flexibility to seek their own knowledge. They can pursue areas they are interested in, which leads to more interest in their education and a commitment to their own success.
  3. Independence within Community. Finally, students of the Montessori curriculum are encouraged to develop their own independence, while participating in the rest of the school community. That is, they learn to support themselves, but know there are other people and resources in place to help them get to where they want to go, both in education and in life.

These are just a few of the many benefits of leveraging a Montessori education, and we at SCV would absolutely love to see this philosophy and these benefits adapted in programs across the country.

Even incorporating just some of these elements can have the potential to radically transform the way our children learn, and the ability for us to enjoy a sustainable, happy, and self-actualized future.

Click here to learn more about Montessori from AMSHQ.