Hello all! I am Victoria McClellan, an education intern from Russell Sage College. I was honored when Samantha asked me to be the guest blog post for the month of April. Throughout the spring semester I have spent my Monday and Thursday afternoons diving into the archives and libraries here at the Shaker Heritage Society. I have had the pleasure of meeting many volunteers, the wonderful women who work here day-to-day, and William (the cat). I have recognized that the Shaker Heritage Society functions as a mini family, each taking their turn to contribute to the museum with the skills that they possess.
During my afternoons here I have been researching how the Shakers lived as a mostly self-sufficient large family. Each member of the Shaker community worked hard every day to contribute to the community as a whole. I have focused my research on topics such as: governing the community, educating the youth, the focus on uniformity, and the Shaker’s relationship with the outside world.
I then took this research a step further and prepared a lesson plan for students with an eighth grade reading level that compares and contrasts aspects of the Shaker community with the way that the community functions in Lois Lowry’s The Giver. This novel focuses on a community that lives in seclusion from the rest of the world and the government dictates what the members can and cannot do, read, see, and learn. This community has been stripped of so many beautiful things like color and memories, things that the Shakers enjoyed. The lesson plan addresses common core standards by encouraging students to use textual evidence from the novel and relating literature to history.
This way the students can learn about history with the incorporation of literature. At the end of the lesson plan the students taught the meanings of a dystopia versus a utopian community. They are encouraged to discuss their feelings about both the Shaker society and the community in The Giver in mind.
So today I would like to challenge you to think about the way the Shakers lived with the ideas of a dystopia and utopia in mind. I will refresh your memory with dictionary definitions of these words, just in case you are drawing a blank. A dystopia is a place in which everything is unpleasant or bad while a utopia is an environment where everything is perfect. Do you think that the Shaker community falls into one category or the other?
Some follow up questions to keep your wheels turning:
Would you enjoy living as a Shaker?
Are there certain aspects of Shaker life that you wish the government would utilize today?
Is there one quality of Shaker community that you believe would make your community a better place?
Are there any feature of Shaker life that you are glad that you don’t have to take part in?