A Great Debate

I’m in the middle of teaching John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath today, and I presented the students with the following question:

If the economic system used in our society guarantees winners and losers, does this mean society has an obligation to take care of the losers?

Wow! What a lively debate! It may have been one of the best moments of the school year as the students brought up salient points from their experiences, observations, and from The Grapes of Wrath and The Great Gatsby (which we read previously).

What struck me, though, as I watched the students argue their ideas was that the students of the upper middle class families argued most strenuously for less assistance (because they believed everybody could get what they want by working hard enough and some will cheat the system) while my middle and lower class students argued for more assistance (because they believed opportunities are fewer for them and hard work may not be enough to be a “winner”).

This class divide in economic home lives came out quite clearly, but the students eventually reached an understanding that assistance is needed, and they decided that some will cheat the system and that’s just the way it goes.

Tomorrow I’m going to present ideas to them to see how they feel about them, and then I’ll reveal these ideas to be from Steinbeck (and hint at some of his socialist slants). I’m curious how they’ll react.


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