When I was in year 10, my English teacher introduced me to a novel which would forever stay with me as one of the most awesome novels I’ve ever read. We did all the usual stuff, analysed the themes, techniques, characters, blah blah blah, but the concept behind the novel will never cease to intrigue and amaze me.
The Wave by Morton Rhue follows a week in the life of Laurie Saunders, a high school student in America who attends Gordon High School. Laurie is a straight A student who is dating a football player, David. They both attend Mr. Ross’ Senior History class. Mr. Ross isn’t like all the other teachers, he’s young, enthusiastic and likes to push the boundaries. After showing his class a film on Hitler, he is faced with a question from Laurie, “If only 10% of Germans were Nazis, why didn’t the other 90% do something to stop them?” Ben found that he could not answer this question and thus began the experiment that would forever change the school, the class, Ben, Laurie and every student who ever reads this novel.
I started teaching this novel to my students two weeks ago. I began by teaching them a bit about Nazi Germany, who hitler was, who the Nazis were, concentration camps, etc (having a double teaching degree in History always comes in handy!). They were intrigued, interested and engaged. This is a year 10 class, who aren’t “bad” but there are a lot of low ability kids and kids who need to have something to hold their attention other than facebook on their phones. I didn’t tell them what was going to happen in the book, all we read was the blurb and we looked at the cover. They begged me for two weeks, “Miss! Can we just read the book?! I want to know what happens already!”
Finally we began reading, and when I say we began reading, I mean I began reading to them. You have to understand, I have at least 3 students who can barely read, those 3 plus another 2 who can barely write, and a good 5 others who have the attention span of a 3 year old. But as I began to read to them they were silent. I had never seen the class that quiet before, as Ben Ross says “only when it’s empty”.
We are half way through the novel currently and the kids are loving it. It’s a fantastic way to show the kids more about the way Nazi Germany worked while keeping them intrigued through a relevant context and setting.
The German film, Die Welle is also a great resource when reading The Wave. Die Welle was made in 2009 and was set in a German school instead of an American one and has a few main concepts changed for dramatic effect, however, the classroom scenes are extremely powerful. The film is awesome, although it has subtitles, because it is German, obviously, the kids were reluctant to watch it, but were so taken in by it, they didn’t even notice after awhile. The Wave is not only the first novel a lot of these kids will ever finish but the film is the first foreign film they’ve ever seen.
The fact that it really did happen in an American high school always works well with them too. We looked at whether it could happen in our high school or not, why they think it couldn’t and what they would do if it did.
This novel changed my high school experience and has always stayed with me, I can only hope it will have the same effect on my year 10 English class.