The Giver

Serving The Greater Whole

An excerpt from Brave New Schools - 1995



 the problems



"People of all ages, stations, and skills will be asked to serve.... I will set a goal for all American middle and high school students to perform 50 hours of service a year, and for all college students to perform 100 hours of service a year...." Obama's "Universal" Service Plan

Notice [in this book review] the emphasis on government control and mandatory assignments such as communal child raising and community service -- starting at age eight. Here, the value of human life is measured by its usefulness to the "whole." Unhealthy babies and the elderly are simply euthanized. Though some of the problems of social control are exposed near the end of this popular Newbery-winning book, the "positive" visions of a socialist society are indelibly planted in young, impressionable minds. What sounds unthinkable to us, would seem plausible to children who never learned about our God or the foundations of America. 

Laura's fourth-grade teacher was reading a new book called The Giver. The story seemed sort of strange and spooky, but most of her classmates at Adams Elementary School in Davenport, Iowa, liked it. After all, it had won the 1994 Newbery Medal--and was dedicated to "all the children to whom we entrust our future."1 Therefore it had to be good--didn't it?

The book told about a special community where every child felt safe, ate plenty of food, took pills to stop any pain, and lived in a family no larger than four. Overpopulation was no problem since new babies were limited to fifty a year. Born to professional "birth mothers" instead of real mothers, the newborns were placed in Nurturing Centers where older children helped care for them during volunteer hours. To keep people comfortable and free from stress, handicapped babies and low-weight twins were "released" to go to a mystical "Elsewhere."

Each December all the children advanced into the next age group. At the Ceremony for the Ones, the healthy babies born during the year were assigned to selected families. Jonas, one of the Elevens, still remembered when his sister Lily was a One and came to live in his family. This December, she would become an Eight and receive her first voluntary service assignment. On the same day, all the Nines would get their first bicycle, and the Tens would get special haircuts. The new Elevens would soon have to take daily pills to quench the strange "stirrings" that came with puberty.

Each group of children--up to Twelve--learned to follow the rules for their age, succeed in school, complete their service assignments, and share their dreams and feelings with their designated family Sometimes Jonas preferred to hide his feelings, but that was against the rules.

As they neared December once again, Jonas and the other "young adults" waited anxiously for the Ceremony for the Twelves. This year, they would receive their permanent Assignments--their place to work during their productive years. These Assignments were chosen by the Committee of Elders who had been observing every child.

Jonas, who had intuitive power to "see beyond," was chosen to be the Receiver of Memories - the one who would know the past. The former Receiver, who now became the Giver, would place his hands on Jonas' back and psychically transfer all past experiences and distant memories to the boy. Eventually, Jonas would become the community's source of wise counsel and secret wisdom - like a tribal shaman.

Laura and her classmates listened, imagined, absorbed, and pondered. Sometimes Laura felt uncomfortable--as when Jonas had to bathe a frail, slippery Old woman during his volunteer hours at the House of the Old. But the worst part came when Jonas' father, a Nurturer, had to "release" the smaller of two newborn twins.

As the teacher read from the book, Laura pictured the scene she heard: Jonas and the Giver were watching the Release on a video screen. They saw a small windowless room with a table and scale--the same room Jonas had seen during his service work at the Nurturing Center. "It's just an ordinary room," he said to the Giver. "I thought maybe they'd have it in the Auditorium, so that everybody could come. All the Old go to Ceremonies of Release. But I suppose that when it's just a newborn, they don't...."

Suddenly, Jonas saw his father enter the room with a tiny newchild. He put it on the scale and noted the weight. "'re only five pounds ten ounces," he said, "A shrimp!"

A shrimp? Laura could identify with the tiny infant. She, too, was a low-birth-weight twin. Feeling shaky, she listened closely as the teacher continued to read:

His father turned and opened the cupboard. He took out a syringe and a small bottle. Very carefully he inserted the needle into the bottle and began to fill the syringe.... [Then he directed] the needle into the top of newchild's forehead, puncturing the place where the fragile skin pulsed. The newborn squirmed, and wailed faintly.

"Why's he--"

"Shhh," the Giver said sharply.

His father... pushed the plunger very slowly, injecting the liquid into the scalp vein until the syringe was empty....

As Jonas continued to watch, the newchild no longer crying moved his arms and legs in a a jerking motion. Then he went limp. His head fell to the side, his eyes half open. Then he was still...

His father tidied the room. Then he picked up a small carton that lay waiting on the floor, set it on the bed, and lifted the limp body into it.... He opened a small door in the wall... It seemed to be the same sort of chute into which trash was deposited at school.

His father loaded the carton containing the body into the chute and gave it a shove. "Bye-bye, little guy," Jonas heard his father say before he left the room. Then the screen went blank.2

Stunned, Laura stared at her teacher. Would they really kill a baby if it didn't weigh enough? The horrible image of the tiny infant, murdered and thrown down a chute like a piece of garbage made her sick. Her thoughts raced on. How could the kind Nurturer kill it! What if it had been her! She was just as tiny when she was born. And she already been thinking about death. Only weeks ago, her own grandmother had died.

She rushed home from school and burst into the house. "Mom, Mom," she cried, "Guess what my teacher read today!" She poured out her story, while her mother, Elaine Rathmann, listened quietly.

The next day, Mrs. Rathmann, a member of the local school board, visited the school. When she suggested that The Giver might be inappropriate reading for fourth-graders, the principal indicated his reluctance to "stifle academic freedom".

Next, she told the teacher how the book had affected her daughter.

"But I didn't tell the class what I believed," he answered. "I let them come to their own conclusion. My children know fiction from nonfiction."

But that doesn't matter, thought Mrs. Rathmann. Sometimes an exciting story can transmit horrible images and socialistic messages more easily than a history lesson.


The Giver fits into the flood of classroom literature that force children to think the unthinkable and reconsider the values they learned at home. It also models many of the pitfalls and imagined perfections of the utopian school-centered community being implemented by today's national and international change agents:

In many parts of our country - as in the envisioned community -- teams of professional "experts" are already replacing parents as ultimate decision makers in the lives of children. As suggested by the slogan, "It takes a whole village to raise a child," they will make sure parents are trained to follow the prescribed guidelines for parenting. If this new system is implemented by AD 2000-2001 as planned, all who refuse to conform will find their parental authority usurped by trained educators and community leaders.

A sensational fantasy? Not at all, as you will see in Chapter 7. Since many of the specific strategies are hidden behind "sugar-coated" promotion and misleading labels, few see the danger. Some are silenced by the politically correct notion that discernment spells intolerance. Others simply don't believe that America could really change all that much. After all, we have our constitution!

Could we have become a nation of listless frogs, drifting blindly in cultural waters that are nearing the boiling point? Laura's mother, a school board member, would probably answer yes. She saw the blind drifting both in her daughter's classmates and among the other parents.

"The Giver desensitized students to the new values," she told me. "Though the last part showed the downside, the book helped make the futuristic community seem normal. Their conclusions would be based on the biased information they were given."

"Did other parents share your concern?" I asked her.

"I don't think so. They didn't want to be disturbed. No one else was willing to say, 'I won't let you teach this to my child.'"

"See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ." (Colossians 2:8)

Note: The conclusion in The Giver shows the weakness of the controlled society it depicts. But I don't believe the ambiguous ending diminishes the book's effectiveness in changing social values. In fact, this ambiguity strengthens its use as a tool for the consensus process. The two main dangers I see are:

1. The mental images created by the story. The murder of the baby happens in a context that allows euthanasia for the good of the community. Such suggestions will desensitize most children to the value of life whether the town calls for killing "low birth weight" babies or for euthanizing old people no longer useful to the community.

2. The dialogue that usually follows in a classroom setting. After reading the book, students usually choose their positions and discuss the issues raised. Within the rules of the consensus process (see Mind Control) the students must seek common ground and be willing to compromise in order to please the members of the group and come to some kind of consensus. Even if the final consensus disagrees with most of the regulations of the community described in The Giver, the Christian child must consider, imagine, and respect viewpoints that clash with his or her faith. Some of the discussion questions I have seen indicate that the teacher-facilitator must direct the students toward a respect for all options and toward a middle ground that, at least, makes the unthinkable controls and euthanasia seem acceptable if not preferred.


  1. Lois Lowry, The Giver (New York: Bantam, 1993).
  2. Ibid., 148-149.
  3. San Jose Mercury News, January 6, 1996.

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