Today marks our last week of school, and I got to spend last week teaching one of my favorite short stories, Ray Bradbury's "The Pedestrian." If you've never read the story, here's a link to it. It's the story about a guy named Leonard who still goes on walks, even though the rest of the world is addicted to television and can't leave home. I think this story holds great significance for the students that I'm teaching now. When I teach this story, I allow students to read it on their own first and draw their own conclusions about what's going on in Leonard's world. Then, I show them this animated version of the story on Vimeo. The story is a great way to teach foreshadowing and has a lot of suspense, but students who struggle with comprehension find the video really helpful in decoding the story.
Next, I ask students to raise their hands if they can think of a way that this story, written in 1951, can apply to life today. Every hand in the room goes up. Today's students are very aware that the world is addicted to technology. After reading this story, I had my accelerated classes read this CNN Tech article about embeddable technology. It's a great modern-day connection and makes Bradbury's story (and his fears about technology) seem applicable in today's world. Many of them noted that, while Bradbury set "The Pedestrian" in 2053, the technology addiction he was warning against is very much a problem in 2014. Many of them wrote about the negative side effects of technology, including the changing landscape of socialization that we're all experiencing. Seriously, who ever thought that families would have to develop a "cell phone policy" for the dinner table?
While my accelerated classes focused on debating the ever-present threat of being taken over by technology, I chose to focus on creating narrative with the rest of my students. We debated and discussed the same themes and issues in "The Pedestrian," and I asked my students to write the story of the "21st Century Pedestrian." Here's what one student wrote on his class blog:
The year is 2115; the government doesn’t matter anymore. There are no crimes or wars for them to deal with. Nothing is the same. No street lights are on. The city below is dark, broken, and dirty. After the cars started hovering, no one was on the ground. They are all up there; I see them, forgetting about the worries of life, especially after the phones got smart enough to control everything. Humans have no control, no say in what they will do today; the machines do everything for us. They have tried to make me a slave to the technology, but I know better.
We have lived in a world where we rely on a phone to remind us to say hi to our grandma and not to forget milk when we're shopping. No one ever thought that we wouldn’t have control over a piece of plastic with wires, but this is life. If only we had taken the time to set our phones down, go for a walk, and talk to a stranger, maybe it would be different.
There are few like me. The ones that refused the technology, or maybe they just couldn’t afford it. After they took over, they basically built a whole new world, burying the old one in dust and scrap parts. Very little lives on the ground. Most are up there, with there heads in the clouds. They're like zombies, glued to the screens of light, no one exercising. They're all fat and unhealthy, like the being lifted out of bed by a mini crane fat…yeah.
Tokyo and China were the first to go, then the U.S. Africa is fine; no technology there to rule. We have no control over our world. We saw this coming, and we ignored it. Now there is no going back. This is the end...or is it...
If you think about it, this student is probably not that far off track. How many times in the past week have you had a face-to-face conversation with someone while staring at your phone at the same time? I know I'm guilty. This week, as we wind down the last few days of school, I'm going to take some time for a little face-to-face, "old school" interaction. I'll be sad to see this group of students leave our middle school, and I need to soak up these last few days for the wonderful time that they can be. Happy almost-Summer, everyone!