I recently read the 1980s science fiction classic Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card and found it to be a thoroughly enjoyable story despite the author’s personal view point on the subject of same sex marriage, which admittedly colored my reading and interpretations of some of the finer points of the story. Regardless of Mr. Card’s personal politics, I found many parallels or at least reasonable shadows of my professional world in many of the plot points and trappings of the book. What is interesting about the world of the story is the high stakes conditions in which some of the children in the world are reared and groomed, with little-to-no objection by the parents, by the military and the government. The eponymous character of Ender Wiggins has been earmarked from birth to be the leader of Earth’s Interstellar Army against the ubiquitous threat of the deadly “Bugger” race. Ender happens to be the smartest and most tactical person alive in his generation, and even so the level of stress that he is under through imposed social isolation and a series of engineered toughening experiences, the head honchos of the military are concerned that he is going to end up cracking like his brother Peter, who became a maniacal and murderous sociopath (whom parents and adults seem to adore).
As I read through the text, which incidentally is suggested reading for the Marine Corps., I couldn’t help but think of my own students in my elementary school classroom. The world is thrust upon the shoulders of young Ender at the age of six, and by nine years old he is the leader of a squad of students at Battle School. My students are about eight and nine years old and the thought of them leading each other into null gravity mock battle situations and studying trigonometry in their barracks is confounding. Understandably, Ender’s experience is a work of fiction—and science fiction—at that so I have to frame my thought with the qualification that the this fictional student, exceptional as he may be, does not in any way relate to the students of third and fourth grade age in the real world. My students are currently in the process of taking high stakes standardized examinations in Math and English Language Arts and they can’t handle the pressure of paper and pencils. The schism has me unnerved as the world that we live in doesn’t have a “Bugger” extraterrestrial threat, however our students are being afflicted with higher and higher educational standards that could only reasonably be developed to discover which students will crack, and which students will rise to the occasion. Of course, without the benefit of genetic culling, and advanced (nee fictional) technology to ascertain which parental matches and developing zygotes will become abnormally super-intelligent and capable, what I find is that my students are all too real, all too fragile, and all too crushed under the weight of expectations that have not been properly supported from foundational skills acquisition.