Now I know this is going to sound crazy, but just try to go with me on this one. I think that A Clockwork Orange would be a valuable book to include in a high school curriculum. Before you start throwing things at me, I would like to share with you why I feel this way.
First, the language that Burgess uses would be a valuable aspect of the book to teach in a high school. Because I went to Rutgers to become a teacher, I am familiar with the standards that public schools need to adhere to. These are the NJCCCS (New Jersey Core Curriculum Content Standards) and they are a list of what students should learn and be able to do by the time they graduate from high school. Standard 3.1.12.C.1 states that students should be able to “decode new words using structural and context analysis.” What better book to meet that standard? I know that realistically a person could search Google to find out the meaning of Burgess’s slang. However, if the book is read solely in the classroom, students will not have access to such information. They will need to rely on the context clues to understand what our dear narrator Alex is saying or thinking about. It took me half the book to figure out what “viddy” meant because until I had that right context, it could have meant many things. For me, that was half the fun of reading the book.
Burgess purposely uses this language so that his book would never become dated, and it worked. While reading the book, I did not feel as though I was reading something that was written back in the sixties. I think that students would enjoy reading this book as well.
Another aspect of the book that would be valuable is the amount of discussion that can come from the book. One area of discussion would be the procedure that they use to “cure” Alex of his violent ways. This method plays on the concept of classical conditioning; providing a stimulus that eventually promotes a desired effect. If a student takes a psychology course in college, there is a good chance that he/she will learn about classical conditioning. Having previous knowledge about it will help the student to better understand it in college. This conditioning also brings up other topics of discussion in the novel. First is the fact that this technique sounds like a good idea, but we soon find out that it had many flaws. How many times does that happen in life when something sounds good on paper until it is put into practice? Second, students could discuss the man who was against doing this to Alex. The prison chaplain feels that a person should want to do good deeds and resist evil temptations, not be forced to do so for fear of feeling sick. Students could lend their judgment of whether they feel the chaplain was right to feel this way.
Lastly, students could discuss the last chapter of the book. For many years, the last chapter was omitted because editors felt that people would not find the ending to be plausible. Now; however, many copies of the book include the last chapter to show readers the book as it was fully intended by the author. In class, students could share their feelings of the last chapter and if they feel it is plausible or not.
As far as the violence and sexual content that is present, would it be much worse than what teenagers already read and see on television? This book could be appropriate for a senior class where the students are 17-18 years of age. Though, I do not recommend showing the movie to students. When reading the book, the violent scenes are short enough where someone reading it may not be offended by the content. However, when watching the movie, the violent scenes were longer, more graphic, and more disturbing than what I gathered from reading the book. When reading, it is up to the reader to visualize the violence. When watching the movie, you are seeing the violence through the eyes of the director which might be more vivid than your own interpretation of the scene. The teacher will also be there to monitor students so they get the most value out of the book without focusing on too much violence.