Discussion Questions and Assignment Ideas for Teachers Teaching Corporate High School

A teacher in Michigan, Laurel Myers O'Boyle, absolutely made my day when she sent me a picture of her class set of copies of Corporate High School, then a picture of her whiteboard covered with the notes from her classes' pre-reading predictions based on the book's cover, then some images of her students using the code system in the novel to send messages based on the texts of Shakespeare's plays.

Today she sent me a short note asking for some discussion questions I might recommend to her class. I'll post those below. For any other teacher interested in teaching the book, I posted a couple ideas about classroom assignments here. Two are based on contests the publishing company is running this fall which might give your students a little added incentive; one is the contest to create a new cover for the second edition and the second is a contest to create the best book trailer video to post on YouTube. I should also have added this one, a request for an image for a t-shirt that would show support for the novel and its call-to-action without seeming to support The Corporation that is the antagonistic force in the novel. 

Another idea, which Ms. Myers O'Boyle already employed in her classroom, is to have the students stunt cast a hypothetical movie version of the novel. I posted my suggestion for Harriet here along with a video. Please encourage your students to post their ideas about the right stars for the parts in the comments section on that page. It could turn into a great practice fr them if we could generate a lively debate about the right actors for the various roles.

Any of these assignment ideas, paired with a persuasive essay explaining why they are the best fit for the novel, would make excellent summative assignments that would show both persuasive writing skills, reading comprehension skills, and literary analysis skills. 

If anyone would like me to Skype or conference call with their class or book club, please contact my publishing company at NotAPipePublishing@gmail.com to schedule that. I love talking with people about the book and hearing their opinions (especially their ideas about the sequel!). 

Here is my first draft of a list of discussion questions. If you can think of any others to add, or if you had a great group discussion that you'd like to share so I can try to craft a question to encourage others to have a similar conversation, please post it in the comments section below!

Discussion Questions:

1. As Harriet meets people, we get to meet them, too. Our first impressions often don't fit with the conclusions we come to about people once we get to know them. What was your first impression of Lucas? What about Sky? What about Ken? What about Graham? As you read further, how did your opinions of those characters change? Have you ever had a first impression of a friend that changed as you got to know him/her? Have you ever made a first impression that didn't match the real you?

2. At the beginning of the story, Harriet accepts the status quo. She writes about it in her diary as a way if explaining it to herself to understand it. Only after she puts it on paper does she decide that it's not acceptable (though she still hasn't quite figured out what should be done about it). Describe a complicated situation you eventually came to understand. How did your understanding change your opinion?

3. The relationships between children and parents in Corporate High School are complicated. Consider the relationships between Harriet and her father, Harriet and her mother, and, later, Lucas and his father. Do these relationships seem realistic? How do they relate to parent/child relationships you have witnessed? When/if you become a parent, how would you relate differently to you own son or daughter?

4. Popularity plays an important role in Corporate High School. Lots of people say they don't care about popularity (especially popular people), but almost all of us want to be liked and respected. How do the characters try to earn the admiration and affection of their peers? Why do they succeed or fail? How do those attempts relate to the things The Corporation wants of them?

5. The Corporation is presented as a negative but impersonal force, less like a shark or wolf, more like a landslide or a tsunami. If it is evil, it's a systemic evil rather than a personal evil. What are some other forms of systemic evil you've learned about in history or which you see in the world today? What are some ways people stand up against systemic evil? Which kinds of protests do you think are most effective? Which are the most moral? What if those are different?

6. Part of the problem with Harriet's school is that it is exclusively designed to prepare her for a job working for The Corporation. What are other things that schools should do besides preparing students for specific jobs? How should schools change to do all those other tasks more effectively? What kinds of things should schools not do?

7. At the end of the story, Harriet finds herself in a very different situation in relation to her parents, her friends, her new boyfriend, and The Corporation. What do you think she should do next? What do you expect her friends to do? What should her parents do if they want to keep her safe? What do you think The Corporation should try to do if it wants to stop her?