The Language of Literature
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"Aaron's Gift" by Myron Levoy

Overview

As a child growing up in a small Jewish community in the Ukraine, Aaron Kandel's grandmother survived brutal attacks by the Russian Czar's soldiers known as the Cossacks. Many years after leaving her childhood home, she remembers those traumatic events. In this story, Aaron, finds a pigeon with a broken wing. After nursing it back to health, he plans to give it to his grandmother for her birthday in hopes of easing some of that pain. Later, amidst pressure from a neighborhood gang that pretends to want the pigeon as a mascot, he finds himself torn between his desire to surprise his grandmother and his desire to belong. Finally he chooses to disobey his parents and join the gang. However, during his initiation, he learns of their real plans to kill the pigeon and fights to save the bird. Beaten and disillusioned, he tells his parents and grandmother the truth. It is then that he realizes that restoring the bird's freedom was the real gift to his grandmother.




Issues

This story addresses

  • animal cruelty,
  • peer pressure,
  • gang violence.




Instructional Focus

To encourage students to identify and examine

  • methods for coping with peer pressure,
  • methods for making responsible decisions,
  • appropriate methods of resolving conflict,
  • the difference between protecting one's self from violence and being an aggressor and
  • the importance of examining historical examples of collective violence resulting from prejudice and anti-Semitism.




Activities

Oral Reading
Read the story aloud. Pause to identify the inappropriate feelings and actions of characters. Have students suggest the possible consequences of each. After the reading, ask students to identify alternative reactions that may have resulted in a more favorable, less violent resolution.

Class Discussion
Use the following questions as springboards to solutions:

  • Aaron longed to join the gang "to be with them and share their secrets. . .to belong." What is appealing to Aaron about belonging to this group? What does "belonging" mean? List the benefits of group membership in general. What are some of the possible drawbacks? List.
  • What danger signs did Aaron choose to ignore when he made his decision to join the gang? What criteria or standards should a young person use to evaluate the benefits and drawbacks of belonging to a certain group? What positive examples of belonging groups did Aaron have in his life?
  • What did Aaron do when he saw what was going to happen to the pidgin? How do you judge his behavior in this situation? Was it right or wrong to behave in this way? What other choices did he have?
  • Consider the behavior or the other boys. In the incident with the bird, what choices did the other boys have? How do you judge their behavior?
  • What can a young person do when they suspect a group of engaging in violent activity? What responsibilities does each member of a community have in stopping gang violence?
  • Some may have criticized Aaron's mother for allowing him to take in a wild animal. However, by allowing Aaron to help the pidgin, she teaches Aaron an important lesson about humanity. Through his family and his family's history, Aaron learns to respect life and to help others. Why is that an important lesson for people to learn? What happens when people begin to lose their respect for life or their willingness to help others?
  • Which other characters in the story choose to participate in violence because it is encouraged by the group to which the character belongs? What do these characters teach us about the importance of examining group behavior and making decisions about right and wrong for ourselves?

Choices in Time
In small groups, have students create a sequence chain for the story, recording each event in the story in the order in which it appears. Then have students examine the sequence of events and determine each point at which a character could have taken an appropriate action that may have helped Aaron avoid the violent encounter with the gang. Record a description of this action and create a new sequence of events for each possible outcome. In the end, each sequence chain will have several alternative branches.

Animal Rights and Wrongs
One issue this story raises is that of animal cruelty. Have students research books, newspaper articles, and web sites on this issue. Then have students design and create a poster promoting the humane treatment of animals.




Real World Connection

Have students develop a plan for coping with inappropriate behavior and peer pressure in their school and/or community. Have students identify a behavior that they feel is inappropriate and consider who or what contributes to the on-going problem. After discussing the problem, have them brainstorm a list of actions they could take to stop the problem. Have them determine the appropriate steps an individual or group might take to resolve this problem.

 

 


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