134 – Politics in Anne of Green Gables

Politics? In a story about a young teen girl from a tiny town in Canada’s smallest province from over 140 years ago? Actually, yes! Politics come up frequently in the classic novel Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery, and they have some surprising things to say to modern readers, most importantly that we don’t have to let differences of opinion drive us apart.

This is the second to last installment in my series on Anne of Green Gables as a work of historical fiction. Hopefully it can help you think of ways to use Anne’s awakening to a wider world beyond the small village of Avonlea to start interesting conversations with your own kids about why people have such different views about how the world should be run, but also that we can be good friends with members of different political parties.

Activity: Kitchen Politics

In Anne of Green Gables, Anne asks Matthew questions which show that she is starting to become aware of a larger world. He understanding of politics is very limited, though, and is very naturally rooted in wanting approval from Matthew. She expresses support for the Conservative party when she learns that’s how Matthew votes, and her enthusiasm is reinforced by the fact that her school rival Gilbert supports the Grits.

This passage is a great lesson for both parents and children. Matthew doesn’t ever try to lecture Anne or tell her what to believe. He just listens and answers her questions (or, at least, responds as well as he can). Kids can also pay attention to Anne’s biases. She doesn’t actually support the Conservative party because she knows nothing about the policies they favor. She does seem to be paying attention to things adults say, though, as she relays Mrs. Lynde’s views on educational policy and votes for women. Encourage children to watch out for these kinds of biases as they become aware of the larger world. They should never support a political party because it happens to be the tribe they’ve landed in; rather they should engage with and work to understand the ideas and policies of political parties so that they can be confidently informed about the platforms and candidates they support.

In your discussion, don’t forget to point out that although many of the characters in Anne of Green Gables belong to different political parties, they are still friendly, respectful, and neighborly toward one another. Different points of view are helpful in figuring out which policies will be best and challenging bad policies. These differences are not the most important thing in life and do not mean people can’t be good neighbors and friends.

76 – Animal Farm

Animal Farm by George Orwell offers something to virtually every academic discipline. Teenagers will be delighted to engage with it so long as it’s presented in an interesting and appealing way. In this episode, I give some ideas for how this book can be taught in different kinds of academic classes.

Also in this episode, I mentioned this heartwarming story I found about a town in Wałbrzych, Poland that is using handmade dolls representing Anne Shirley from Anne of Green Gables in order to raise awareness about the need for more foster families. I’d love to find more information about this story, but I don’t speak Polish, so if any listeners can help me understand some of the Polish-language reporting on this sweet story, I sure would be grateful!

Activity: Passive Voice

Teachers usually tell students never to use passive voice, and as a general rule this is good advice. Passive voice is when a sentence puts more focus on the person or object experiencing an action, rather than the person or object doing the action. A sentence written with active voice would be “The animals sang a revolutionary song called Beasts of England.” That same sentence in passive voice was “A revolutionary song called Beasts of England was sung by the animals.” Active voice tends to result in clearer, shorter, more easily understood sentences. Passive voice can sometimes make it unclear who performed an action.

But sometimes, passive voice can be used creatively for the sake of humor or to encourage the reader to figure out certain things independently. George Orwell uses passive voice in Animal Farm to draw attention to times when the pigs behave in a selfish or corrupt manner. These sentences often begin with “it was noticed” or “it was felt.”

Have students track times when passive voice is used in Animal Farm. Ask them to rewrite these sentences in direct voice, so that the styles can be compared. Then discuss how the passively construction sentences are more funny and thought-provoking, which shows that passive voice can sometimes be used, but only for a good reason.

Activity: Who Should Be Allowed to Vote?

In Animal Farm, the pigs steadily convince the other animals to stop making any decisions for themselves because they might sometimes choose poorly. The pigs take all leadership power for themselves, shutting out any non-pigs from the government of Animal Farm.

After reading this portion of the story, encourage students to consider the following questions. Answers may be given as written responses, discussed in small groups, or talked about as a class.

  • Who should be allowed to vote?
  • Should someone be allowed to vote if they can’t understand what the consequences will be?
  • Should children be allowed to vote?
  • What about those with mental disabilities?
  • Should there be things people have to do to gain voting rights, such as passing a civics test or performing some service to the community or nation?
  • Under what circumstances should someone have their voting rights taken away?

Activity: Political Slogans

In Animal Farm, the animals come up with a list of principles for their philosophy of Animalism, using the slogan “four legs good, two legs bad.” The pigs gradually begin breaking the principles until they change this slogan to “four legs good, two legs better.” The sheep are easily persuaded to bleat these slogans in a very pointed metaphor.

Have students research political slogans. Some are fairly honest and straightforward, like “I Like Ike.” Some summarize a political position such as “No Taxation Without Representation” or “No Nukes.” Others are more threatening, such as “Eat the Rich” or those which claim a country should belong only to a certain ethnic group. Each student in a class can research a different political slogan, focusing on the historical setting of the slogan’s creation and the message that it was meant to send. Students could also share their feelings about the slogan’s effectiveness and the implications of the policies the slogan advocates for.