By Brooke Haycock

Brooke Haycock, senior playwright-researcher with The Education Trust, primarily develops and performs docudramas based on interviews with students and educators to deepen understanding of educational data and the equity debate. This post was originally published as part of Ed Trust’s Between the Echoes blog series, which offers glimpses of students’ experiences. As Ed Trust notes, “All stories are based on interviews or first-hand accounts, but are shared with respect for the privacy of students and the adults around them.”


“Happy Hunger Games! And may the odds be ever in your favor.”  The Hunger Games

She walked onto the campus with confidence. Head high, stride purposeful, hair a shock of rebellious pink, and boots broadcasting that she was not to be messed with.

She’d been chosen to be there. One of just a few rising juniors from her high school across town. Crossing borders to join an elite group of mostly privileged private-school students for a summer Advanced Placement English enrichment/prep program on a prestigious college campus. She had come there the hard way. Had earned it.

She and her classmates were ready.

Or so she thought.

The teacher asked them to pull out the first book they’d be reading that fall in AP in their schools.

The private school students’ backpacks unfurled as they reached for their copies of The Odyssey and works by authors like Emerson and Goethe.

“And we pull out,” she paused for effect, “The Hunger Games.”

From there, it was one jolt after the next.

“Everything in this summer program, like, every single class is conversation. And just constantly, as you read, as you discuss, you’re taking deep notes. You’re constantly taking notes and learning.”

She described how different this was from instruction in her pre-AP English class and her AP world history class the year before. “I feel like we spent too much time learning to take the test and not enough time on content. And all of the content that we got was either straight lecture, like the teacher talking completely, totally on her own the whole time. Or, um, from the text. We read two chapters every week of the text.” And the text she described was a far cry from the ones she was encountering in this summer program.

“In this summer program, we read only original authors. So you’re reading Lucretius, you’re reading, um, Aristotle. Those are the ones we read in our one week there. Um, Metamorphosis of Plants by Goethe. And, to me, it was just so crazy, like, how many of those kids knew those things already and had been exposed to them.”

“It just really struck me as unfair. We’re going to be taking the same AP test. The same exact test. We need to know the same exact things.”

Despite her and her schoolmates’ hunger for it, that’s not the exposure and preparation they were getting. As if they’d been offered the wrapper but real AP content and rigor was somehow determined a bite bigger than they could chew.

Now back in her regular school, she sits in class and opens her worn copy of Hunger Games to the dog-eared page in chapter seven, and continues to read as the main character, Katniss, realizes she must fight a battle for which she was underprepared.

There’s nothing I can do but continue with the plan. I walk to my archery station… Bows made of wood and plastic and metal and materials I can’t even name. Arrows with feathers cut in flawless uniform lines. I choose a bow, string it, and sling the matching quiver of arrows over my shoulder… I walk to the center of the gymnasium and pick my first target. Even as I pull back on the bow I know something is wrong. The string’s tighter than the one I use at home. The arrow’s more rigid. I miss by a couple of inches and lose what little attention I had been commanding. For a moment, I’m humiliated, then I head back to the bull’s-eye. I shoot again and again until I get the feel of these new weapons.

She dog-ears the page, closes the book, and reaches into her book bag. She pulls out a copy of Kafka’s The Metamorphosis on loan from the library. If her school won’t prepare her, she’ll have to prepare herself.

shutterstock image
How many more students are ready to fly? (Image courtesy of Shutterstock.)

Learn more about the experiences of low-income students and students of color at the high end of the achievement spectrum in Ed Trust’s “Falling Out of the Lead.” 




2 comments on “AP Hunger Games”

  1. 1
    Ewaldoh on November 10, 2015

    One need only look at the growth in enrollment and choices in AP classes over the past generation. That information is available on-line. Knowing something about human evolution tells us that we, as a species, have not developed that far.
    At the beginning of my career, we offered two(2) AP classes. They were offered to a student body of 2600+ students and were scheduled for a single section each. When I retired, there were seven(7) AP classes in four departments. Most were offered in multiple sections to 1600+ students.
    In addition, we have always offered “enriched” and “fundamental” classes to accommodate learning abilities and interests. Along with “weighting” grades to have students graduation with something still called a gpa of 5.5+, we have made the enriched classes the normal tract and have adjusted the curriculum to match. This “forces” the driven kids/parents to demand more AP classes. The staff doesn’t fight this because of their own egos.
    What this leaves us with is a big bunch of slightly above average students taking AP curriculum and, well … not always doing that well.

  2. 2
    Ponderosa on November 13, 2015

    This piece has a whiff of that tired old reformer cliche –if only those horrible lazy public school teachers simply CARED enough to challenge their students, the achievement gap would go away. Ergo justice demands that we drain the swamp wherein teacher unions breed by siphoning off students from public schools into charters. This thought led me to look at the Education Trust website and read about its staff. As I suspected, nary a veteran teacher among them. A few boast a “stint” here and there, often with Teach for America. One jumped straight from the Ivy League to consulting at the NYC Dept of Ed (wow, what wisdom that Ivy must have imparted!). I watched their videos about high achieving schools and it’s pretty clear that they have no clue what the secret sauce is. You hear a bunch of vapid cliches about teachers needing to collaborate and raising the bar. Not very impressive. I wonder if Brooke Haycock has ever asked a regular public school English teacher (I know, eww!) why she may have opted not to read Emerson with her kids. Perhaps, um, she kinda…knows the kids? Perhaps she can barely keep them from spiraling out of control with pulpy pop fiction like the Hunger Games…so imagine what the class would be like with Emerson? Or perhaps she knows that Hunger Games is a big comprehension stretch for many of her kids, and that Emerson would be unintelligible? These are questions that I know to ask because I have experience. Believe me, I’d love to read classics with my students. I’ve been rereading Walden recently and the thought occurred to me that I’d love my students to get exposed to this. But another thought occurred to me: no way! Not here and not now. For many reasons that have nothing to do with my laziness and a lot to do with complex local conditions that a policy wonk in DC can gloss over but that I, the boots on the ground, cannot. Education Trust seems to think that it can prescribe education policy without the benefit of minds with much actual teaching experience. I could go on explaining why this piece is tendentious and misguided, but I doubt anyone at Education Trust cares what I, a regular public school teacher, thinks. From their website it seems like what they really value is data and… those untarnished with public school teaching experience.

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