Jonas’s eyes from the cover of Son

I got up early this morning. Ivy was eager to get out and survey the yard and I ventured onto the deck after her and heard the unmistakable crunch of winter precipitation underfoot. I stepped gingerly to avoid being an early morning casualty and coaxed her back inside. By that time, the coffee had finished brewing and I could enjoy a cup while sitting on the couch with Ivy in my lap.

Vacation was great, really great, in fact amazing. It was good to get back, but being away and kicking back was what we all needed. Our last day was amazing and interesting, all at the same time and our trip home full of surprises, at least for two of us, but that is not what I awoke for this morning to write. All week long and most of last week, I have wanted to write this post, but I haven’t made time. Each day, there has been another project, task, or appointment in the way of writing and then last Saturday night another piece of the puzzle developed and I struggled with it.

It is the fourth quarter and they are 33 days remaining in the school year much to do in time that will disappear before my eyes. Additionally, it is the time of year when we read my favorite seventh grade novel, The Giver. I have written about the book before, but mostly in a casual way, a mention. The book is a great book and most students enjoy the book because of the story. This year we are teaching the book differently from a different perspective using a thematic approach. In previous years, it has been part of the science fiction genre study, but education is changing with the nationwide adoption of the Common Core State Standards. It is good, but challenging. The curriculum is more rigorous – not difficult, but challenging kids to encourage them to think critically.

With the new approach, The Giver is taught along with short stories and articles around a central theme. Communities is the theme and the idea behind it is for students to decide which is more important – the individual or the community. The importance of understanding the story for comprehension is less important than reading the story for its message and theme.

The Giver is about Jonas, an eleven-year old boy who lives in a community where everything is controlled, managed, and safe. However, it all changes when Jonas turns twelve and receives his assignment.

Jonas’s world is perfect. Everything is under control. There is no war or fear or pain. There are no choices. Every person is assigned a role in the Community. When Jonas turns twelve, he is singled out to receive special training from The Giver. The Giver alone holds the memories of the true pain and pleasure of life. Now, it is time for Jonas to receive the truth. There is no turning back. (from

We have been reading and discussing the book in class and students discussed the community in an argument essay Thursday – they are piled beside me, waiting to be read and assessed, but Friday we followed Jonas along on the first day of his assignment and discovered a new twist, memories.

Before we even opened The Giver and started reading, we read several short stories from our anthology and watched an episode from the Twilight Zone – “The Monsters are due on Maple Street.” The episode aired in March 1960 and the episode’s theme is the community vs. the individual. It fits perfectly into the unit we are teaching and is a good illustration of our theme. In the episode, the power suddenly goes out in a neighborhood. With no power, phones, or radio the neighbors jump to conclusions and the action becomes intense. It is important to note that in March 1960 our world was much smaller and simpler than today and America was in the grips of The Cold War. The episode is below, if you want to go back in time.

Several students missed reading the story in class and watching the episode and I searched You Tube and learned that an updated version was available; it was produced in 2002 and aired March 2003. The update is true to the original I can distinctly remember the mood of the nation in late 2002 and early 2003 and can see something similar happening just about anywhere. The video is below. (UPDATED 7/31/2013 – the original video was removed 🙁 I left the original player and have added new links below to the same video – but in two parts)

Which brings me to last weekend, last Saturday night in particular, Saturday was an icky day I had a dentist appointment for a crown and afterwards I had a headache. It was cold and rainy, W had lacrosse and scouts, O had softball practice, and I had work to do. I did not much feel like working but by late afternoon, my headache was gone. We have lived in our home over twenty years and we know many of our neighbors. A few have kids our kid’s ages or their kids have sold us popcorn, wreaths, or athletic cards. We talk on snowy days and gather when the weather is warmer to talk, when we are raking leaves, mowing the lawn, or just outside enjoying the day.

A few years ago, the house next door sold and a new family moved in. We’ve met them but we don’t interact and the family keeps to themselves. They are not bad neighbors, far from it, their house is neat, yard kept well though they do not shovel their sidewalk but they are not the only neighbors who neglect a snowy sidewalk. They simply prefer to keep to themselves. Saturday morning I looked out into the backyard and noticed they had tent attached to their porch and it looked like they were having a party Saturday night.

When Saturday evening rolled around, my headache was gone, I was installing O’s new closet and the party began. They had a DJ and we could hear the music well. It was fun to work to the music. O went outside and sat in her fort on the play set listening and dancing. It got late and it was time for W and O go to sleep and rest up for the day to come. Really, all of us needed rest, but the party was still going and the music was still playing. I had gone downstairs and I saw a car pull up in front of our house with the familiar markings of an official visit from the authorities, then another pulled up. The two officers got out of their cars, walked up the drive and paid the house a visit. Suddenly, there was no music.

It was eleven o’clock Saturday night and somebody, a neighbor, had called and reported them. I was shocked, I had not called, I had no intention to, but someone did. It unnerved me and I was embarrassed for my neighborhood, my community. I mean, if I had had a problem with the music being too loud, I would have politely knocked on the door. Yet, someone did have a problem, did not knock, and made a call.

Sunday was the opposite of Saturday – sunny and warm enough to get outside and begin the process of restoring the yard and preparing for spring, and later summer. I knocked on the door to apologize for the community, but no one was home. B did see them and speak to them while were outside. We got a lot done and filled several trashcans with dead leaves and withered vegetation left behind from last year’s growth. I was still, I still am, troubled, embarrassed and I thought of it in the context of our community in the context of what I am teaching my students. I finished the day cooking out and we enjoyed steak, asparagus, and salad sitting down as a family, spent from the full weekend.

That was last weekend. This morning it is cold and wet. O’s softball practice this morning has been cancelled and tomorrow is scouts and W’s Spring Court of Honor. Today is grading, inside housework, and preparing for the week ahead. It is gonna be a great day, I know it. Nevertheless, I had better get rolling and make it count, make it worthwhile, put it into play. Making the Days Count, one day at a time.

What would you have done? Knock or call, why?

10 thoughts on “Communities

  1. I t always amazes me at how some people just get annoyed at a little noise from good fun. When we grew up in the burbs there was always an occasional party going on that used to last until after midnight on the weekends. No one called the cops, and most times they quieted down by 1. It was the weekend. No one cared. Nowadays I think people are too uptight.

    1. I was embarrassed – but what goes around, comes around. Some people are simply too concerned about the rules, it’s the rules, man. Most people would have turned the other cheek and let live and let live. All it takes is one to spoil it all. thanks for stopping by.

  2. I wouldn’t have called the police either, but I’m with Lynn about letting neighbors know ahead of time and/or inviting them. There’s always a big one behind our house in the before summer around the university’s grad time. We usually walk around the block just to peek at the live concert they host. 🙂

    1. One of our neighbors has a late summer yard party with live music and invites all the neighbors. This year it was a jazz band and it was awesome. We were able to leave the kids at home and walk on over, have a beer or glass of wine (it helped us unwind after a day of whines) and mingle with other folks in the neighborhood. I don’t for a minute think it was him. He wasn’t invited, but he’s the kind of guy who would knock on the door and invite himself to the party if it bothered him. Thanks for stopping by and I can’t wait until my book(s) arrive! Take care.

  3. I’ve never read The Giver but I’ve been meaning to. I need to make a point of it now. That Twilight Zone episode sounds like a play I was in in 7th grade, just a different title, but I’m guessing it’s the same. The power went out and one neighbor had a ham radio set. He was being blamed for contacting aliens, blah, blah, blah. It was a good play.

    Good luck with winding down the school year. I heard about those new core standards. I hope they work out for our students and the schools, and for teachers.

    I would have gone and knocked on the door. When we threw parties, we’d always invite the neighbors, too. Even if they didn’t come, they were less likely to call the cops!

    Have a great week, Clay.

    1. It turned out it was a 50th birthday party and it sounded like a lot of fun. I first read The Giver when I was preparing to be a teacher and it shook my world then, after reading it with students and teaching it, I have discovered it is one of those books that is a paradigm shift for adolescents – much the same other great literature was for us in high school and college.

      The Common Core Standards are changing the landscape of teaching in a good way. Rigor is good, what is interesting is that the kids who seem to be having the most difficult time with it are the top students – they are having to work harder at learning with this shift in teaching. It is more focused on critical thinking and top students have been able to excel in the current system without really thinking, they simply know. With the common core, that isn’t good enough, it is good to see them think it through.

      1. I think it has to do with the idea that the rigor has increased and we are asking our kids to really think as opposed to recall information and spit it back to us the difference is “When does the action take place?” to “Why does the character react that way? How does that compare to the character in this story?” It makes them think at a deeper level, they are not used to that. The kids who are not at the top, are used to struggling and can cope better, for them it is difficult and always has been, for the the top kids they are not used to struggling and really don’t cope well.

  4. Excellent, thought-provoking post, Clay. I enjoyed reading it, and watching the original version of ‘Monsters.’ Surprisingly scary, and amazing that it still holds up all these years later. I’ll have to watch the more recent version later.

    And for the record, I wouldn’t have called the cops on your neighbor’s party either.

    1. It is scary, especially when you realize that it could happen. it’s funny what fear does to a person. The newest version is even scarier because I can see many of the characters in people I know. Scary. Thanks for stopping by!

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