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451 24-7


I’m just starting Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 with 9th graders. Eventually, we’re going to do a simulation. The paperwork for an actual book burning was a hassle, so instead we’ll simulate a book challenge hearing, with kids playing various parts including “concerned parent,” school librarian, administrator, etc. (the kids without a set role will be members of the school board, charged with listening to the evidence and writing a decision). Don’t tell the students, but I think the book we’ll put on trial is Harry Potter.

For now I want to write about the “anticipatory set.” You know, what I do in the beginning to hook the kids. Instead of diving right in with the censorship angle, we’re approaching by a side route that I think might prove interesting.

Bradbury himself stated, in a recent interview, that he had never intended Fahrenheit to become the poster book for book banning, since he originally wrote it as an anti TV screed.

That’s right: the prolific sci-fi author was less interested in Montag dousing piles of manuscripts with kerosene than with Montag’s wife Mildred, doped up on sleeping pills and adrift in the world of the imaginary family that lived in her “wall screens.”

In the novel, her inevitable overdose and his horror at the blasé medics who pump her stomach, along with a precocious teenage girl’s questions about his job, propel Montag to (gasp) read the books he’s supposed to be burning.

This brings me to the media journals, our warm up assignment. Last week I issued books and assigned the first chunk of reading. Along with that, I asked students to keep track of all the media they consumed for seven days.

I tried to keep a chart myself, too, just to make sure it would work. The categories were user-friendly enough (Date/Time/Form of media/Content/Purpose oractivity), but what struck me that I simply hadn’t realized when conceiving the assignment was that life itself, all of a sudden, has turned into a near constant stream of media bombardment.

Take Saturday, for example. I met a friend for coffee in the morning, a Brit who was listening to BBC1 in his car when he picked me up. We looked at my resume and related materials on a laptop in the coffeehouse while rapping about jobs.

When I got home, the kids were still in PJs watching a Tom and Jerry DVD, so I slipped downstairs to work on an article that’s running in the Washington Post soon, clicking into my blog to cherry pick some phrases.

By noon, we had to get the boys out of the house to stay out of the cleaning lady’s way, so we drove to my parents’, cranking the radio in the car on the way over to drown out some back seat bickering.

After bagels at my parents, the boys played (nicely) upstairs, and I hung out reading the paper. I’d already gotten through most of the Post, but they had the Times too.

Soon, it was time to drive home and let Will get his nap. Jack was worn out from a late Friday night, so we put him in front of the TV for some down time. In the meantime, I snuck down to the manzone to download itunes for the new Xmas nano.

Later, we whipped up family dinner at home and watched Second Hand Lions, a pretty funny flick with Michael Kaine and Robert DuVall as crotchety old man who live in the boonies (with no electricity).

After bath and bedtime with the boys—I read the New Yorker by flashlight when I was putting Jack to sleep-- Courtney and I channel surfed our way into the last half of Out of Africa before dozing off.

I may have left out a dog walk or two, but there you have it. A not untypical day in the life of a regular guy. Right? Maybe I should have made the assignment to record times kids are NOT consuming media. After all, my day was cover to cover and I don’t even play video games or instant message.

I’ll make you a deal: keep consuming me, and I’ll report back about how much and what type of media kids crammed into their busy lives last week beyond reading the first 68 pages of Fahrenheit 451.


Hi Mr. Rosenfeld:
Lucky I'm not reading Fahrenheit 451, or I would know what we were doing already! =)
I read Fahrenheit 451 last year and I thought it was a very strange albeit interesting book. It was very surreal, and it made me think a lot.

I couldn't help but comment when I saw this post. Fahrenheit 451 has always been one of my favorite books, and I think these students are lucky to have you assign it. I read it for English in...7th grade? We never did anything as interesting-sounding as a book trial or even media journals, which would have served to drive home the main ideas in the book even more than just reading it. But then, we were 7th graders.
Good luck with this unit, and I hope your students like it.

Wait, are your freshmen are actually reading a good book? I thought that was illegal.

Oh, and my new nano is cooler than your new nano.

Yes, what a wonderful, thought-provoking book and set of activities that go to the heart of why literacy is so important.

A number of teachers I've worked with have students read Bradbury's short story "The Veldt" in conjunction with either Fahrenheit 451 or with Lois Lowry's The Giver (or both). We publish that story in our Junior Great Books series 6 (meaning it is most often used with 6th graders)and it has been challenged several times. I think Bradbury also uses this story to help us think about the impact of TV ("the nursery" in the story) and other technology on our lives, and the students I've discussed it with are very insightful about why the children in the story are so "spoiled."

You know that the ALA (American Library Association) has an Office of Intellectual Freedon with lots of information on book challenges, right?

Good luck and enjoy the dialogue with your students!

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