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Socratica Reads - Kimberly Hatch Harrison EPISODE 5, 11th March 2021
Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
00:00:00 00:08:28

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card

Ender's Game is an essential read for gifted kids and adults who were gifted children. And anyone who is supposed to be raising or educating gifted kids.

We don't just root for Ender. We ARE Ender.

Although Ender's Game is ostensibly science fiction, much of it reads as a slice of real life for gifted kids. They've all experienced the mix of pride and shame when a teacher singles them out for praise (enraging other kids). They've felt the loneliness and isolation. And they've been let down by the one-size-fits-all education they're required to spend their entire childhoods on.

At Socratica, we're very much focused on this essential question: how do you give people the education they NEED and DESERVE? That may be why this book speaks to us.

Purchase your copy of Ender's Game here: https://amzn.to/3thefTf

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Welcome Everybody, to Socratica Reads. My name is Kimberly Hatch Harrison, and I’m the cofounder of Socratica. We make the educational videos of the future. Or educational videos for YOUR future. On the Socratica Reads podcast, I share some of the books that have inspired us, and it’s almost always that literary genre for dreams and dreamers - science fiction. Today I’m revisiting ENDER’S GAME by Orson Scott Card. 

This is one of those books I wish I had read as a kid. I think it would have helped me channel some rage. It was written in the mid 80s, but I didn’t come across it until I was an adult. I first read Ender’s Game right before I was going to start teaching in my old high school - which was a super high-powered prep school. I am glad I read it then, because it reminded me of what it was like being a smart kid (all the kids I taught were also really smart, and it helped remind me of the situation they were in). 

This book doesn’t shy away from the power and potential of children. I suspect that makes a lot of people uncomfortable - and I think that’s why, when they did a movie adaptation, they wrote the script with MUCH OLDER kids. But we’re not talking about the movie here on Socratica READS.

The other thing I’ll say is that I wish this book was the only book in the series, and not the start of the Ender Wiggin Cinematic Universe. This book is practically perfect, and I was so happy to re-read it. I have no desire to re-read any of the other books, especially because at some point they got REALLY WEIRD about embryos and Petra and Bean could only talk about their potential children? I mean, someone was obsessed. 

So, anyway, I’m going to do my best to pretend this was the one and only book about Ender. 

I was thinking about how different the experience is to read a book as a kid, when maybe it’s the first time you’ve ever come across your own thoughts verbalized. What is it like for a smart little kid to read Ender’s Game - what a kindness to create this book for them. I felt so alone as a gifted child - no one knew what to do with me, and everyone pretty much ignored my special needs as long as I wasn’t causing any trouble. At least my parents were able to put me in a private school where I was PHYSICALLY safe - I wasn’t getting beaten up for being smart, but I was certainly verbally bullied and socially excluded. The actual education I received in my grammar school was indifferent at best. I can say it probably did me no harm. Michael, my sweet brilliant husband, grew up in a very small town with very few educational options - I’m pretty sure he was the smartest person in a hundred mile radius -  and he DID get into trouble, apparently - he was always getting scolded for talking in class. And he DID have to physically defend himself at times. I imagine he was bored, and lonely, and surrounded by people who didn’t understand him. 

What DO you do with a gifted child? No one knows what they’re doing. So, you stick them in piano lessons. I’m joking, but also I’m not joking - Michael took piano lessons, and so did I. I’m sorry, that really did nothing for me. I’m sure it didn’t hurt, but it wasn’t the ANSWER. 

This is one of the giant questions we are trying to address at Socratica. Who speaks for the bright kids who want to learn? What’s out there for them? Can we serve this under-served group of learners.

Ender’s Game tells the story of what happens when a brilliant child IS properly educated - at least, properly educated in order to achieve a certain goal. In Ender Wiggins’ family, he’s one of three brilliant children. It’s sort of a Goldilocks problem - his elder brother is smart but disgustingly cruel. His elder sister is smart but too gentle to do what it takes. But Ender, the third child, is just right. Just the right blend of intelligence and when it calls for it - the killer instinct. 

The book begins in a post-war era. Humans narrowly escaped complete annihilation by insect-like alien invaders. They’re called Buggers and they’re incomprehensible. They still exist, somewhere out there on their home planet, and they’ll be coming back, so people have to get ready. And that means training the next generation of military leaders who can think creatively and beat the technologically superior Buggers. 

While the bugs reproduce like mad and spread out across the universe, humans on Earth have learned to control their population. Families are limited to two children, except in exceptional cases. And Ender’s family was exceptional. I actually wish there was a little more time spent with Ender’s brother and sister, who have secret identities online as intellectual giants, even though they are still children. I find that part of the storyline amazingly prescient for a book written just at the start of the internet age.

There’s an element of Harry Potter receiving his letter to go to Hogwarts - I think every bright kid hopes that someone will recognize their special talents and they’ll be rescued from their dreary life and be taken away and properly nurtured and educated. But the downside of that is something that most gifted kids have experienced - they are pointed out in class as being exceptional, and the other kids hate them for it. 

I think a lot of readers will be fascinated by the *specific* training games that Ender is put through in this weird space boot camp. But the intricacies of the game don’t matter, it could have been anything. It’s that Ender is pushed to the limits of his ingenuity. Here’s a short quote from Ender, who recognizes the meta-nature of his training: “most boys in this school think the game is important FOR ITSELF, but it isn’t. It’s only important because it helps them find kids who might grow up to be real commanders, in the real war. But as for the game, screw that.” 

I wonder how many kids recognize this about their own real-life education - that it’s not so important that you read and analyse THIS book or derive THIS math formula - it’s that you CAN analyse a book and you CAN derive a math formula. It’s training for your brain. Maybe school would feel different if kids could appreciate that a lot of their education is arbitrary - it’s like eating your vegetables or doing exercise. But then again, you’d like to be able to enjoy what you are doing, not just for the long-term benefit. 

I’m interested in pulling out what is it about this book that is so satisfying - even though it’s science fiction, and much of it is set in a fantasy space boot camp, there’s something so FAMILIAR about what happens to these kids. These scenarios COULD happen anywhere. The smart little kid is picked on and grownups let it happen. The smart kid learns that the grownups have their own issues and limitations. Even though much of the book is sad and scary, ultimately, there is a message of hope - you will graduate to freedom, if you are smart enough to see it, and seize it.

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