How politics should be taught through '1984' and other political literature

As political literature returns to the limelight, students and educators should integrate old and new literature into education

Political literature is experiencing a resurgence, and that should change how politics are taught.

The turbulent political climate has caused an uptick in interest in politically charged literature like George Orwell's "1984," was already popular in high school curricula, politics educators at the college level should be working now more than ever to work classic literature into their classes. 

Rarely is there such a timely link between popular culture and classic literature, and regardless of whether the present state of politics is or is not a parallel to Orwell's cautionary tale of totalitarian government, valuable lessons can be gleaned from renewed interest in controversial political literature. 

"Fiction encourages a reader to empathize with situations they don't have access to," said Meredith Martinez, the education programs manager at the Virginia G. Piper Writer's House. "It is very important to teach other perspectives so that we have a better understanding of our own situation." 

The novels "1984" and "Brave New World" do offer important lessons and warnings, but they are not entirely perfect for educating students about the dangers of overbearing and dangerous government. 

"Classic narratives are not the full picture anymore," said Jake Friedman, coordinator of the Virginia G. Piper Writer's House at ASU. "We need other culture besides just Shakespeare and the 'Scarlet Letter' and '1984'. There must be an understanding provided by education so that one can participate effectively in our government and culture." 

The obvious flaw in using "1984" as a benchmark for teaching political awareness through literature is that the work itself is in fact almost 70 years old, and "Brave New World" is another 17 years older than Orwell's masterpiece. 

Students and educators at ASU can help to rectify this deficiency by combining interest in new works with respect for the old. 

Classics like "1984" and "Brave New World" contain lessons that remain applicable years beyond their publications, but students and educators must be willing to find and learn from contemporary works as part of their political education through literature. 

"It is important to teach perspectives outside of just the white middle class male, which is the focus of much classical literature," Martinez said. "Good political work is out there and being generated, but only a few small groups are doing a good enough job of proliferating multifaceted literature." 

Students and educators could vastly improve political education if they can combine the lasting themes of the old with the trendy subject matters of new works. 

"As political situations change," said Friedman, "the reading changes of each work."

Reach the columnist at or follow @jonahpbaker on Twitter.

Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.

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