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Violent Educations: Battling School in Yong Adult Literature

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There is an unsettling proximity between death and school in contemporary books for young adult audiences. Popular realist school stories focus on bullying, gang-warfare, and school-shootings. Similarly, YA dystopias emphasize an intimate link between education, knowledge, and death. This talk will focus on an exploration of death in Ender’s Game, using what is arguably a proto-text for the YA dystopia to explore this link between death and education in YA literature. As Ender Wiggin is brought to an early adulthood, his education centers entirely around acts of violence, both physical and mental. School, rather than acting as a site of child-nurture, emerges as a place of death and violent alienation, which demands the ‘death’ of Ender’s child-self. In elucidating the notion of school as a deadly space, I will draw on Michel Foucault’s notions of the genesis of educational spaces, as well as Johan Galtung’s theories of cultural violence. This exploration will focus both on Ender’s experiences within the physical setting of the school, as well as on the trial following Ender’s victory, as educational practices are placed at the center of a legal trial, and the bodies of the two children ‘sacrificed’ for Ender’s education act as literal ‘evidence’ of Ender’s crimes as well as his ultimate success. Through my examination of school within Card’s narrative, I will explore and elucidate this link in one of the seminal texts to stage violent educations as necessary for the salvation of the adult world, as this puzzling and yet powerful depiction of school as deadly, and education as inherently violent, grips the contemporary imagination.

This talk is part of the FERSA Lunchtime Sessions series.

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